Understanding Major Depressive Disorder

To feel “low” from time to time is to be human, but what happens when it takes over your life? Major Depressive Disorder, or clinical depression, is a mood disorder that affects how you think, feel, and behave. It can manifest in physical symptoms like extreme fatigue and can affect normal day-to-day functioning. In some cases, it can be so severe that sufferers feel that there is no reason to live and can become suicidal. 

Contrary to popular belief it is not something you can just “snap out of.” Major Depressive Disorder is a clinical issue that typically requires medical attention and intervention. Depression can affect people at any age or stage of life, including children and teens. 

Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder symptoms can vary from person to person. Not everyone with clinical depression will experience all of these symptoms. However, in general symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder can include: 

  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or despair
  • Lack of motivation
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of interest or joy in activities previously enjoyed such as hobbies
  • Tiredness, extreme fatigue or lack of energy to even accomplish small tasks
  • Weight fluctuation, either reduced appetite resulting in weight loss, or increased food cravings resulting in weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling irritable, having angry outbursts, or feeling frustrated by even small things
  • Sleep changes, either in the form of insomnia or oversleeping
  • Trouble with concentration, feeling foggy, difficulty with decision making, and forgetfulness
  • Slowed speech, thought, and movement
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide

Depression and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is common among people experiencing Major Depressive Disorder. Often people use substances like drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and attempt to ease the pain they are feeling. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol do not solve the problem and come with issues of their own. For example, alcohol can actually trigger depressive symptoms. Thus, substance abuse and depression can actually fuel each other and make things far worse. 

For this reason, Major Depressive Disorder and Substance Use Disorder are often seen together, called Co-occurring Disorders. 


Currently, the best course of treatment for Major Depressive Disorder is a combination of medication and therapy. Usually, doctors prescribe serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) first. These medications are often better known by their brand names and include Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa. Antidepressants such as these typically take anywhere from two to six weeks to be effective and it might take a few attempts to find the best medication fit and dosage. 

Furthermore, therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help patients recognize negative thought patterns early on, teach coping skills and strategies for controlling symptoms. 

In cases where Major Depressive Disorder co-occurs with substance abuse, comprehensive treatment is necessary. Facilities which specialize in the treatment of Substance Use Disorder, addiction, and co-occurring disorders such as clinical depression will be able to treat all aspects of the problem. 

When only one side of a co-occurring disorder receives treatment, the untreated condition can continue to wreak havoc. Thus if a patient is treated only for alcohol abuse but not depression, the depression can drive them to use to deal with difficult symptoms. If the depression is treated without addressing the alcohol abuse, a person’s drinking could trigger the depression again. 

Getting Help 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, addiction, or co-occurring disorders, contact us today. Harmony Recovery Group specializes in treating co-occurring disorders and getting to the root cause in order to give you the best chance at long-term recovery. Call us today and find out how we can help.

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