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The Link Between Addiction and Depression

addiction-and-depression

There are a number of natural and effective ways to combat depression. Unfortunately, given that depression tends to sap a person’s energy, motivation, and overall will, proactively battling it with positive and healthful techniques isn’t always an option. After all, you probably won’t feel like lacing up your tennis shoes and going for a mood-boosting run on days when you don’t have the drive to get up and shower, eat a decent meal, or even comb your hair.

For many people, the easiest and quickest solution to depression is to use substances that instantly alter their emotions and state of mind. Getting intoxicated or high makes them feel different, if not always better. Sadly, however, these quick fixes can also set the stage for addiction.

Often referred to as substance use disorder, addiction can have many different underlying causes. Most common among these causes are co-occurring disorders or secondary mental health issues such as clinical depression. With co-occurring disorders, people use substances to alleviate the symptoms of mental health issues that haven’t been properly diagnosed, and that aren’t being effectively treated. Their efforts to self-treat by using substances often worsens the very symptoms that they’re hoping to correct.

Anxious people become more anxious, and those living with depression become significantly more depressed. Worse still, as tolerance is increasingly built, more substances are needed just to feel normal. In this way, addiction and depression create a dangerous cycle that proves incredibly hard to break.

The Relationships Between Addiction and Depression

It’s estimated that more than one-third of those who suffer from clinical depression will eventually turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Drugs and alcohol alter the brain’s chemistry.

When substances are used, the brain’s reward system is triggered into releasing a flood of “feel good” chemicals. Known as neurotransmitters, these chemicals make people feel relaxed, euphoric, and more confident. Certain substances such as stimulants can even make depressed people feel more alert, focused, and motivated.

However, when neurotransmitters are artificially stimulated by substances too often, these chemicals and the cells that produce them can become worn out. This is known as neurotransmitter burnout. When it occurs, some neurotransmitters are no longer sufficiently produced without drugs or alcohol, and others misfire and are released in abundance.

These chemical imbalances in the brain heighten feelings of depression. They also indicate physical dependence or addiction. At this stage of drug or alcohol use, people can no longer stop using substances without experiencing uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

For a person with co-occurring mental health disorders, quitting outright can be especially devastating. Not only are there physical withdrawal symptoms to deal with, but the psychological effects of quitting can also be severe. Those living with untreated clinical depression can battle intense feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair.

Symptoms of Depression

To an extent, it is normal to have feelings of sadness from time to time. Feeling sad is a common and expected part of life. Depression, however, is often overlooked, underestimated, or outright neglected. People who suffer from undiagnosed clinical depression often beat themselves up for lacking the strength to fix their outlooks, or the motivation to engage in activities that might lift their spirits.

Just as addiction represents an imbalance of chemicals within the brain, depression is frequently the result of similar imbalances. For some people, the brain may naturally have a hard time producing dopamine, serotonin, or other “feel good” neurotransmitters. For these individuals, depression is often severe, and it is often felt all of the time.

Unlike normal sadness or grief, which have identifiable causes, depression doesn’t need a reason to rear its head. Moreover, when people are sad or grieving, they can generally count on their negative moods as having a defined end. Sadness can often be battled by meeting up with friends, changing an environment, or simply having a good cry or a long nap.

Grieving is a process, and when it’s complete; people are able to move on with their lives. Conversely, certain forms of depression can last for weeks, months, or even years. Some people live with intense depression for so long that they cannot remember ever feeling any differently. 

Absent a means for correcting how they feel in natural, healthful ways, it is not uncommon for these individuals to reach for substances to elevate or alter their moods artificially. This is why the link between addiction and depression is so strong, and why depression and substance use disorder frequently go hand-in-hand.

Among some of the symptoms that people living with depression might experience are:

  • Fluctuating body weight
  • Irregular sleep habits
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest and loss of pleasure in everyday activities
  • Low motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Intrusive thoughts of self-harm
  • Suicidal tendencies

The more hopeless and despairing that a person becomes; the more willing they may be to seek extreme solutions.

Types of Depression

There are many different types of depression, and each can have a different underlying, physiological or psychological cause. For instance, some women suffer from perinatal depression or postpartum depression. This type of depression is largely related to dramatic changes in a woman’s hormone profile during or shortly after pregnancy. 

Once referred to as manic depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is a common form of clinical depression that causes people to toggle between extreme “highs” or periods of high-energy and elation, and extreme “lows” or periods of severe depression and despair. Other common forms of depression include:

  • Persistent depressive disorder or depression that lasts longer than two days
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or depression resulting from insufficient sunlight during the winter months and vitamin D deficiency
  • Psychotic depression which often includes paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations
  • Major depression or depression that is all-consuming

among others. Given that each form of depression has a unique, underlying cause, having depression assessed and accurately diagnosed by a professional is an essential step in obtaining an effective treatment. 

How Addiction Affects Depression

Self-treating depression with substances is not a sustainable solution. Using substances has a tendency to exacerbate or heighten problems that already exist within a person’s brain chemistry. Although drug or alcohol use may initially make a person feel better, most substances will eventually make them feel worse.

As brain chemistry is further altered, and as neurotransmitters misfire or are no longer present at acceptable levels, an addicted person’s depression can become unbearable. This is further compounded by the life challenges that addiction often causes. The stress of losing a job, damaging close relationships, facing legal challenges, or struggling financially as the result of drug use can also cause depression to worsen.

Addiction is never easy. However, it can be incredibly challenging for someone with a co-occurring mental health disorder. With increased tolerance and an increased need to use more medication to alleviate fast-escalating issues, people with co-occurring disorders have an elevated risk of overdosing.

Getting Help From a Dual Diagnosis Rehab

Dual diagnosis treatment in rehab is designed to address both addiction itself, and the underlying mental health disorder that may be fueling addiction. Receiving treatment for both mental health disorders at once greatly increases a person’s chances of successful recovery. When depression is successfully managed, the need to use drugs or alcohol to self-treat no longer exists.

Dual diagnosis treatment can leverage many different strategies for alleviating, managing, and even eliminating depression. By helping people achieve and maintain mood balance, these services set the stage for ongoing wellness.

At Recovery Bay, our dual diagnosis team is adept in treating all depression types. We also take a comprehensive, whole-health approach to helping our clients establish sustainable lifestyles. If you’re tired of battling both addiction and depression, our counselors are always standing by. Call us today to learn more about our dual diagnosis program or to schedule a consultation appointment.