How Personality Traits and Stress Levels May Predict Co-occurring Disorders and Aid in Treatment
Drug and alcohol abuse and mental health disorders often go hand in hand. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Many individuals who develop mental health disorders are also diagnosed with substance use disorders and visa versa.” One of the most common co-occurring disorders is alcohol use disorder (AUD) and depression. Those with an AUD or alcoholism are almost four times more likely also to have a major depressive disorder. Scientists and healthcare providers have known these statistics for some time now; however, Michigan State University researchers may have uncovered key predictors (such as stress level tolerance) for the combination of these disorders. This new research is very promising as it could help in both prevention and addiction treatment. (Michigan State University Today, 2020).
First, What is a Major Depressive Disorder?
To understand this study and its significance, it’s crucial to understand what depression is and what it isn’t. According to the Mayo Clinic, “depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called a major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.” Clinical depression can happen once or occur in multiple episodes, and it isn’t something you can “snap out” of or fix without professional help. Additional symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Loss of appetite or weight loss, or excessive eating and weight gain
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Irritability or frustration, even over small things
- Lack of energy and loss of interest in normal activities or hobbies
- Trouble with concentration or remembering things
- Frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
Those suffering from clinical depression typically turn to substances to deal with the above symptoms, emotions, and feelings. The cycle of depression and alcohol use often leads to addiction. But there is hope.
Reason Behind The Research Study
According to Julia Felton, assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine, and co-author on the study, “This research was part of a larger study looking at how people function in adult inpatient substance use facilities. We were interested if we could find potential predictors of co-occurring disorders. We wanted to know if there were characteristics that we could identify at intake that would help tell us who’s at risk for comorbidity.”
The study, published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, looked at alcohol use, depressive disorders, and two specific personality traits:
- Distress tolerance, or how well people deal with stressful situations.
- Delay discounting, a type of impulsivity that causes people to choose immediate rewards over delayed but more valuable rewards.
The study examined the roles of distress tolerance and delay discounting play in the co-occurrence of alcohol use disorders and major depressive disorders. Felton reveals,
“Delay discounting has been associated with many poor health outcomes, but it’s never been looked at in the context of distress tolerance. That’s what we set out to do in this study.”
Researchers recruited 79 people, with a majority of participants being low-income, males, and identified as Black/African American. 77% of subjects reported having at least one substance use disorder, and 64% met the criteria for at least one mental health disorder (MSU Today). The researchers conducted a series of tests and interviews to measure delay discounting, distress tolerance, and alcohol use and major depressive disorders.
What They Found
The study found that high rates of delay discounting and low ability to tolerate stress “not only increases the likelihood that a person would have one of the diseases but also increases the likelihood that a person would have both diseases. Specifically, the highest number of participants, 23%, reported having both alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder. Only 22% reported having alcohol use disorder alone, and 15% reported having major depressive disorder alone (MSU Today).”
Felton adds, “The bottom line is that more impulsive people have higher rates of delay discounting, but also those who were less tolerant of the stress were more likely to have both alcohol use disorder and depression separately. Also, they’re more likely to have co-occurring disorders. We hope to target these personality traits to see if we could prevent the onset of alcohol use disorders and major depression or treat it after it’s already onset.”
The Future and Hope in Treatment
The findings, though preliminary, are an essential step forward and can help in identifying patients who are at-risk for co-occurring disorders. The results could also be used to treat patients in addiction treatment facilities successfully. As for the next steps, Felton hopes to continue to investigate intervention options that would target delay discounting and distress tolerance, as well as look into how those interventions can be adapted to inpatient substance use settings.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, contact your primary care doctor or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained counselor. If you or someone you love has an alcohol or substance use disorder, you are not alone, and Silver Lining Recovery is here to help. Our compassionate, professionally trained staff can customize an addiction treatment plan designed for your individual needs, especially for those dealing with co-occurring disorders such as depression. Don’t let your past steal your present, call us at Silver Lining Recovery (866) 448-4563.