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How to Treat Anxiety and Depression without Drugs

Drug addiction not only affects the millions of individuals who struggle with it, but also their families, friends, and coworkers. The problem often isn’t just the substances abused. Users of both illegal and prescription drugs not only deal with cravings and compulsions, but also from issues such as anxiety and depression. These co-occurring disorders often present challenges during addiction recovery. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates over 8.2 million people in the U.S. suffer from both drug addiction and a mental health disorder, per a 2016 survey.

The Connection between Anxiety/Depression and Addiction

Substance abuse in connection with a mental health problem is called a dual diagnosis. The same study reported that just 7.4% of individuals with a dual diagnosis received drug addiction treatment for both in a professional setting. Oftentimes, individuals do not seek treatment for depression before it escalates to addiction as their mental health prevents them from doing so independently. Or, someone with mild to moderate mental health issues may not even realize that they have a mental health problem despite the fact they have resorted to substance abuse in an attempt to treat depression or anxiety.

Drug addiction and relapse and conditions like anxiety are connected in many ways. Sources that addiction and anxiety have in common include difficulty:

  • Thinking: Difficulty concentrating or focusing can impact one’s ability to function, increase anxiety, and affect someone’s ability to make decisions. Many seek drugs such as highly addictive amphetamines to be able to focus despite their anxiety and counter these symptoms, or depressants like alcohol to drown out the flow of unsettling thoughts and give some relief.
  • Socializing: Social anxiety can contribute to drug use and interfere with recovery. The thought of attending group therapy sessions or peer counseling as treatment for depression or anxiety can, ironically enough, itself invoke intense feelings of fear andGirls Enjoying Their Sobriety With Each Other
  • Sleeping: Anxiety and symptoms of depression are linked with sleep disturbances, and drugs are often a solution for those who are always struggling with what’s on their mind. Stimulants and other drugs can make this problem worse, leading to a cycle in which poor sleep/anxiety leads to drug use. Then, substances exacerbate the problem rather than treat depression or anxiety, and the person takes more and more of their drug of choice to compensate.

Prescribed and over-the-counter medications may help at first, but then people become dependent on them, to the ultimate detriment of their functioning. Treatment of depression should be administered by a qualified mental health provider, not desperately sought out in self-medication with substances. Anxiety relief and better sleep may only happen when an addict is using a substance, which keeps drug users trapped in an endless cycle of abuse. Without their drug of choice, their original problem is amplified, and there are now complications and side effects of this problematic self medication to contend with as well, such as withdrawal, paranoia, rapid heartbeat, compulsions, and fear of running out of drugs.

Alcohol and caffeine are often problematic for those with anxiety and depression. Even though caffeine is an uncommon drug to abuse, it can worsen anxiety, and can even play a role in triggering panic attacks. On the other hand, alcohol can amplify depression, despite a person thinking they feel better after drinking. It can even interact with medications that treat depression and other psychiatric disorders and cause dangerous side effects. It’s therefore important to manage depression in other ways, as well as to be able to recognize the symptoms, such as:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Feeling drained of energy
  • Disinterest in hobbies and pleasure
  • Feelings of negativity, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • Memory and concentration problems

But if you’ve noticed this constellation of symptoms in yourself or in your loved ones, no need to panic. There are many ways to cope with problems such as anxiety and treat depression without drugs, such as to know what triggers the feelings that cause you to abuse drugs. Poor lifestyle habits, eating habits, routines, and stress can be triggers, while healthier choices can be the platform you use to build a solid recovery. Here are some insights on addressing these mental health issues in conjunction with your drug addiction treatment and recovery.

Addiction Treatment and Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction Treatment and Co-Occurring DisordersThere is no easy way to overcome drug addiction. Recognizing the problem is the first step. Living a sober life requires looking at how you deal with stress and finding new, healthy ways to cope with it so you do not have to resort to illicit drug use as a treatment for depression. The people you associate with, activities you pursue during your free time, and being able to improve your self-image will all impact your recovery potential as well. Detoxification, behavioral counseling, and medication will only go so far if you don’t focus on coping with life’s stressors rather than running away from them through drug abuse.

Treatment for depression and any other underlying mental health issues will give you your best chance at achieving lasting sobriety. An outpatient program provides support around your schedule, so that you can still go to school or work while in treatment for depression and substance abuse. Even in this format, the treatment protocol can and should also address co-occurring mental health problems. Coping with stress is one reason people turn to drugs, so therapy and counseling to help handle stressful situations is definitely worth considering.

Social support is also important during recovery, which is why many find refuge in support groups specifically dedicated to the issue. A recovery support group consists of people going through similar challenges to those that you are. Sharing experiences can help you find the support you need to stay sober, and many find preceding through a twelve step program to be beneficial to their recovery as well.

By allowing you to share your experiences with others, a twelve step program can give you the chance to aid others in their recovery as well. Perhaps you can find a sponsor to help guide you through your early recovery, and later on, once you are more established and confident in your recovery, maybe you can consider becoming a twelve step program sponsor yourself.

Seeking support from family members and friends is another way to find encouragement and guidance. Though some of your loved ones may need to take some time before they are ready to forgive you for any wrongs you may have done to them during the course of your addiction, others may be ready and willing to help aid you in your recovery right away. Support systems also don’t need to be limited to humans— getting a pet could also help you feel a sense of companionship and lower your stress levels.

Additionally, one of the unexpected side effects of getting sober is having to cut ties with many people from your former life who will not be supportive of your sober lifestyle, such as any friends you used to use drugs with. New social connections – people not associated with or promotive of drug use – can help you change your life too, whether the people you meet are in recovery themselves or not.

Try seeking out new friends by pursuing hobbies that are unrelated to drugs and alcohol, which can also help treat depression and substance abuse by giving you a sense of meaning in your life. Think about the things and people that gave you joy before you got lost in your addiction and mental illness, and find a way to reconnect with them now that you are pursuing a sober lifestyle.

If you are receiving drug addiction therapy, it’s important to focus on finding dependable methods of stress relief that work for you as well, so that anxiety and/or depression don’t become overwhelming. Remember, you can try:

  • Going for a walk
  • Practicing yoga or meditation
  • Picturing somewhere peaceful, such as a beach
  • Seeking pleasant scents, such as flowers
  • Playing with a pet

Healthy Ways to Manage Anxiety and Stress

No matter how invested you are in recovery and your treatment of depression and other underlying conditions, there will be cravings for drugs and alcohol. To cope, try distracting yourself by:

  • Reading
  • Hiking
  • Exercising
  • Watching a movie
  • Going out with friends

Talking about your cravings can help treat depression without your dark thoughts and feelings spiraling into a relapse of your addiction to drugs or alcohol. Whether you speak to a friend or family member, connect with your therapist, or attend a support group, the interaction may not only yield relief, but a sense of what the source of the craving is. This sort of open communication can also help you breed healthy, honest relationships.

Some other techniques that can help you stay sober include challenging your thoughts about drug use. For some reason, people often forget the worst, most devastating moments of their addiction, instead romanticizing the fleeting highs of their substance abuse.

But reminding yourself of the negative impacts of drugs can counter your destructive urges to resume using. If the craving gets too strong, try a technique called “surfing the urge” (a mindfulness technique), which entails riding out the feeling until it passes. You could also try finding a twelve step meeting near you or calling a therapist, friend or family member who might be able to help distract you from these urges or to offer other support.

Other mindfulness based strategies that can help you alleviate symptoms of depression include meditative practices like yoga. Many people find that yoga helps them to learn to be more in the moment and more in tune with their bodies, which helps them to resist the temptation of drugs and alcohol. Making an effort to practice a few times a week or even every day may help you manage your depression without medication and stay committed to your recovery.

More in-depth insights in this area can be found at HelpGuide.org, as well as in other blog posts that can be found right here on this site. Continue reading for effective strategies for anxiety/stress/depression management without drugs, many of which are part of the treatment protocol for addiction at RECO’s Florida drug rehab program.

Healthy Ways to Treat Anxiety and StressTwo Friends Enjoying the Outdoors

To condition your mind and body to cope with anxiety, without resorting to using drugs, focus on the following:

  • Mental: There are things in life that you can’t control; realizing this is an important first step. Perfection may not be possible, but doing your best is, particularly when you maintain a positive attitude. Having fewer negative thoughts will help you feel less anxious, so challenging such thoughts will be worth it in the long run even if it is unpleasant in the moment.

It also helps to write things down. You might find solace in doing so, or perhaps you will notice a pattern that reveals certain triggers of feelings. You might also find that it helps you process your emotions or remember why you are so committed to your recovery.

  • Physical: Alcohol and caffeine don’t mix well with anxiety, so make an effort to cut them out, even if alcohol was not the drug you initially had a problem with. On the other hand, healthy eating can help with anxiety; not only do you feel better and have more energy, but you get protein, vitamins, and minerals that can help you maintain a stable blood sugar level. This reduces your body’s physical stress response, which is one common trigger for anxiety. Avoid skipping meals and consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates to avoid any blood sugar highs and crashes that might lower your mood and drive you to a relapse of your addiction as you struggle to cope.

Magnesium is a helpful nutrient when it comes to treating depression (although soil where most food is grown has little of it). It has been shown to reduce anxiety, and you can incorporate more of it into your diet naturally by adding in foods like avocados, leafy green vegetables, nuts and other legumes, and even dark chocolate. You can also boost your magnesium intake through methods such as salt baths, supplements, and topical gels.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to be able to help treat depression without significant side effects. These nutrients are found most abundantly in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, but they can also be found in other healthy foods like seaweed, chia seeds, and kidney beans. B vitamins can also help alleviate deficiencies that can cause depression, especially when it comes to the vitamin B12, which can be found in many meat and dairy products as well as in fortified grains and fish.

Another good food choice to help solidify your healthy life style is probiotics, which help boost the natural flora in your gut that can improve digestion and mood, which, thanks to the strong connection between gut health and brain health, can also play a part in helping you treat depression without more conventional psychiatric treatments. To add more probiotics into your diet, look into food fermented by friendly bacteria, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh.

Treating depression without medication certainly isn’t as easy as choosing the right supplements or the perfect diet, but giving your brain the right nutrients to produce feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin can be a huge step in the right direction.

  • Activity: Active ways to reduce stress include pausing to take a deep breath when you start feeling anxious instead of allowing the feeling to worsen. Try taking time outs to listen to music, meditate, or get a massage – anything to clear your head. You can also try counting slowly to distract yourself, or you can talk to a friend or family member for advice or just to shoot the breeze. You’d be surprised how much better you might feel after sharing some of your worries with others!

Woman Meditating on the Beach

Fitness is a great way to relieve tension, whether for someone in Florida rehab or who is just trying to live a healthy lifestyle. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends at least 2½ hours of physical activity every week. This can be a brisk walk or bike ride. Dance counts as well, as does swimming or a jaunt on your favorite exercise machine—just choose the physical activity you most enjoy! The association also suggests that you include 1¼ hours of intense activity per week in your physical fitness regimen.

Here are some emotional strategies for coping with anxiety, treating depression and achieving comfort in sober living:

  • State what’s worrying you over and over until it becomes boring. Eventually, your anxiety will lose its power as you realize that your fear may be irrational.
  • Exaggerate your anxieties to see that your fears aren’t worth worrying about.
  • Know your false alarms and realize that they’re just background noise.
  • Visualize your anxiety as a show, song, or dance you observe.
  • Put aside/write down worrisome thoughts, and devote a time to think them through.
  • Think about how you’ll feel later, or a week from now; all feelings are temporary.
  • Though you shouldn’t be afraid to take some time alone every now and then if you need it to recharge and decompress, don’t stop doing fun things with other people for an extended period just because you feel anxious—that will only allow your negative thoughts to fester and spiral out of control.

Sometimes, physiology can be as important as psychological therapy when it comes to helping yourself with drug addiction. For instance, we all need sleep, but sleep is even more important to someone who is in treatment for mental illness or substance abuse. Insomnia is often caused by anxiety, and vice versa, so being deprived of sleep leaves you more vulnerable to anxiety than usual.

To get out of a bad cycle of sleep deprivation, work on stabilizing blood sugar, avoid caffeine or reduce your intake of it, and make sure your room is as dark as possible at night. Also, give yourself a chance to wind down before bedtime and unplug your devices. The artificial light messes with the brain’s natural sleep mechanisms and can trigger or exacerbate insomnia, which in turn can exacerbate existing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Treat Depression

Woman Meditating in the Sunset

Depression is tough to break out of, and can make you feel drained and hopeless, but that feeling of hopelessness is merely an illusion of the disease. However, drugs and alcohol won’t help you feel happier and more hopeful. But the appropriate treatment for depression can help you find joy in life again without medication through drugs and alcohol. Sober living can help lift you out of your fog and reconnect you to your highest self. First, don’t give in to feelings of shame or guilt. Try these following tips to treat depression directly:

Stay connected: Beating depression requires a lot of effort, and it’s hard for anyone to treat depression without a solid social support system. The condition also causes many people to isolate themselves. Therefore, connecting with family and friends can improve your mood and outlook. The person you choose to reach out to may not have a solution, but even if they are just attentive and compassionate, their support can complement drug addiction help. If you don’t feel like talking, socializing, calling, or having dinner out, do so anyway rather than isolate and risk falling back into old patterns.

Get Exercise: A workout can improve your energy level, which counters the fatigue of depression. Natural treatment for depression can include continuous, rhythmic exercises, such as walking, dancing, and weight training. Focus your mind on the sensation of the activity, rather than on your negative thoughts. Try working out with other people too, as companionship can make exercise feel easier and make you more likely to stick to a workout regimen. To find workout buddies, try attending an exercise class or signing up for a local sports team.

Exercise can also be helpful in treating depression because it helps you build the self-esteem that you need to stay free of drugs and alcohol, as showing up regularly for yourself with a commitment to exercise and noticing how much better you feel as a result can help you to have more self confidence.

Get in the sun: Take a walk at lunchtime, go for a hike, or open the blinds to let in natural light. At least 15 minutes of exposure to this kind of light per day may help treat depression by increasing your serotonin levels. If you live in a climate without much natural light, treatment for depression may also include a light therapy box to help replicate the effect of real-world sun exposure.

Challenge negative thoughts: As mentioned earlier, the way you think affects the way that you feel. Depression is exacerbated by all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralizing single negative experiences, ignoring or diminishing positive events and thoughts, jumping too quickly to negative conclusions, and believing that how you feel changes reality.

Creating too many rules for yourself and labeling yourself based on mistakes and shortcomings can bring down your mood as well. Treating depression can involve challenging the habitual, negative ways of thinking that have kept you trapped in destructive patterns so that you can build a new, healthier mindset that will keep you committed to a sober and healthier lifestyle.

Practice gratitude: Every day, make an effort to think about all of the things in your life that you are grateful for. This can help you foster the positive outlook you need to treat depression without medication in the form of substance abuse and to remember why you cannot go back to your old destructive ways of coping.

Finally, you need to be careful not to equate psychiatric drugs that your doctor may prescribe you to treat depression with substances of abuse like drugs and alcohol. Treating depression without medication is likely ideal due to the side effects that many drugs routinely used in the treatment of depression may have, and is indeed possible for many people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression. But in the end, you should always adhere to medical advice.

Some people who have severe symptoms of depression will be unable to achieve long term relief from their symptoms of depression without medication, and they may need an appropriate medication to achieve long term sobriety. Your doctor’s medical advice, diagnosis, and assessment of your individual needs can help you decide whether or not treating depression without medication is an appropriate option for you.

RECO Intensive Can Put You on the Path to Sobriety and Happiness

How you think, feel, act, and eat can all have strong impacts on your mood, but so can choosing to get help if you have been struggling with substance use. Depression and anxiety do not have to take over your life. If drugs and alcohol have been the answer and have led you to addiction, our Florida rehab can help address your struggles, including your mental health.

If you’re looking for advice, diagnosis, or more information on drug addiction help and professional guidance on dealing with co-occurring mental issues, read more about the RECO Intensive’s comprehensive treatment program online or call 844-955-3042. With the help of our unique individualized approach, professional staff, and lively community of alumi, you’ll have everything you need to help you get back to a brighter future.



  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016/NSDUH-DetTabs-2016.pdf
  2. https://adaa.org/tips-manage-anxiety-and-stress#

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