How to Help Someone Struggling with Drug Addiction and Depression

A man sitting at a table needing help with drug addiction and depression.

Substance abuse and mental health go hand in hand. 


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), half of all people with a mental health disorder are likely to develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives or vice versa. 


When addiction and depression occur at the same time, the condition is known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. Of the mental disorders frequently paired with substance abuse, depression is one of the most common.


In order to tackle both conditions, a specialized treatment plan is required. 


The first step of this plan is admitting something is wrong. This can be difficult, especially if it’s a loved one who is depressed and addicted to drugs or alcohol.


To support their recovery—and potentially save their life—we have to start the conversation.


To help you get started, we’ll go over warning signs to look out for, how to get help, and other ways you can provide support during this difficult journey. 

Drug Addiction and Depression: The Symptoms and Signs to Know

There are many reasons why a person may suffer from addiction and depression at the same time.


Addiction is a mental illness of its own capable of creating other mental health issues like depression.


Likewise, someone who is already depressed may self-medicate to feel better, but the use of depressants (like alcohol) and/or other stimulants only makes things worse.


Regardless of which disorder came first, recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression and addiction can help you and your loved ones come to terms with the gravity of the issue. 


Some signs to look out for include:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • History of physical abuse, neglect, or other trauma
  • Appearing anxious, paranoid, and shaky 
  • Change in appearance and personal hygiene
  • Slurred or fastened speech
  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Strange changes in sleeping patterns
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Problems concentrating at work, school, or in daily activities
  • Lack of energy and/or physical pain such as headaches or back pain
  • Prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, and daily activities
  • Frequent thoughts of worthlessness, death, and suicide

How to Help 

When a close friend or family member is suffering, it’s easy to feel guilty or somehow at fault for their problems, but in truth, depression and addiction are complex health conditions. 


The why or how doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they’re sick and need professional help. 


With the assistance of a therapist or counselor and a dedicated treatment program, your loved one can begin to heal.


Ultimately, their health is in their hands. But as someone who cares, there is a lot you can do without enabling them or endangering yourself.


Here are a few ways you can help:


Start the dialogue carefully and listen intently

The first step is starting a conversation. This can be difficult, as people suffering from addiction and depression tend to be avoidant or in denial. 

Begin by approaching them gently. As you listen, keep an open mind and try not to interrupt them. Allow them to speak fully before asking questions and accept that neither of you will have all the answers right away.


Set boundaries

When supporting someone who is depressed and addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s easy to fall into codependent patterns and enable certain behaviors to the detriment of your own well-being

By setting boundaries, you are not only practicing self-respect but self-care. It’s also one of the best ways to encourage an addict to seek help and become independent. 


You can set boundaries by:

  • Scaling back financial support that has made them overly reliant on you
  • Not allowing drug use, paraphernalia, or alcohol in your home
  • Not covering up for them or lying to get them out of trouble

Help them come up with a plan

If welcomed, bring up treatment options. Browse addiction treatment centers together or recommend an outpatient program you think they might like.

If they’re not interested in rehab, suggest other forms of help like online therapy or peer support. Encourage them to speak with health professionals to learn more about dual diagnosis treatment.


Have resources readily available. 

Those with substance abuse problems and depression often aren’t thinking right.

For example, they may choose to detox without medical help, the side effects of which are dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

They may even suddenly become violent or suicidal while inebriated or in a depressive episode. To ensure their safety and your own, be prepared to act fast and call 911 if needed. 

You and your loved one may also reach out to helplines for emotional support and advice, such as:

For additional support, you can also reach out to other crisis resources listed here.


Get them the right professional help. 

Seeking professional help can often be the turning point during the recovery process. 

Health professionals like therapists and counselors can help develop relapse prevention plans, teach them how to cope with withdrawal symptoms, and provide support in ways you might not be able to. You may also recommend an online therapy platform like Emote for convenient, affordable access to therapy over text and video.  

Your loved one may also seek substance abuse treatment at an inpatient clinic or sign up for peer support groups like AA meetings to combat alcohol abuse. 


Tips and Best Practices When Offering Support 

Confronting mental health issues is difficult for both the addict and the people they love. That said, recovery is possible as long as everyone involved agrees to work hard and does their best to listen to each other. 


It’s also important to keep in mind that addiction and depression are serious medical conditions. As a support person, you are not a medical professional and can only provide emotional support.


This way, you will not enable destructive behaviors or endanger your well-being.


When supporting someone with a substance use disorder and depression, here are a few tips to keep in mind:


Educate yourself about addiction and depression. 

There is a lot of crossover between symptoms of addiction and depression. There are also different kinds of treatment plans for a dual diagnosis such as this.

Researching both can help you develop coping skills and teach you what to expect during the recovery process.


Don’t delay or ignore the signs.

Friends and family of addicts can also suffer from denial. 

If you suspect something is wrong, don’t ignore signs or try to find alternative solutions. This will only prolong recovery and potentially worsen the situation.


Don’t attack or accuse them.

Addiction and depression are mental illnesses that alter brain patterns and behaviors. Though you’re allowed to be angry, hurt, or frustrated, hostility ultimately hinders recovery and rarely encourages it. 


Don’t preach to them or guilt them. 

No one sets out to be an addict or to develop depression. Preaching or shaming them will only validate feelings of self-hatred and keep them from being honest.


Be prepared for denial and a strong, negative reaction. 

Though you may have accepted the situation, the other person may have not. Be prepared for adamant denial and emotional outbursts. 


Accept the likelihood of relapses and be there for them.

The road to recovery is full of ups and downs, curves and pitfalls, and, yes, relapses. Accepting this likelihood will help you prepare to handle the situation.


Help is Available with Emote Online Counseling

Just as addicts struggle to come to terms with their mental health, so do their friends and family.


At Emote, we extend a helping hand.


By working with one of our highly experienced professionals, you and your loved ones can learn how to cope with addiction and depression without overextending yourself or enabling self-destructive behavior. 


You and your loved ones are also free to open up about any personal issues in group therapy sessions. If you’d rather attend counseling alone, you can also schedule an appointment over video chat or communicate solely through text.


All this and more can be done from the comfort and security of your home. 


Sign up today, and your first week of therapy will only cost $35. After your first week, you’re free to select any one of our affordable payment plans.


With Emote, you’re not alone


View our FAQ to learn more or contact us to find out about how we can support you and your friends and family during recovery.