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How Depression Leads to Addiction

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How Depression Leads to Addiction

Written by Genesis Recovery

Depression can disrupt every aspect of your life. When you’re depressed, you may feel like you’re living in a bubble that constantly leaves you numb. You might start to believe that nothing matters, even that you don’t matter and that there's no point to anything you do. At various points in your depression, you might feel downcast, hopeless, and isolated from the rest of the world.

In a desperate attempt to feel anything at all or to escape feelings of hopelessness, many people battling depression start to use drugs or alcohol. The brain, shocked by the sudden appearance of drugs and alcohol, starts to feel again. For a while, you might feel better. But these newfound emotions don’t last long. When the drugs wear off, you likely will feel even more miserable, weary, downtrodden, and numb. When you want to feel “normal” or “better” again, you might believe that drugs and alcohol are the answer. Self-medicating like this isn’t the only way depression can lead to addiction, but behavioral experts do know that untreated depression can be a breeding ground for substance abuse challenges.

Depression: A Clinical Definition

Most people experience ups and downs in life, but depression is more than a case of the blues every once in a while. Clinical depression is a common but serious mood disorder that can last for weeks, months, or even years. Although depression can be different for everyone, this mood disorder tends to affect how you think, feel, and manage daily activities such as sleeping, eating, and working. At times, depression can be so debilitating that you lose interest in your work, hobbies, and personal goals. You may also have trouble sleeping.

Symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but generally include:

  • A persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feeling useless, hopeless, and pessimistic
  • Irritability
  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, and helpless
  • Restlessness or trouble sitting still
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Reckless behavior
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause

When you’ve experienced some of those symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks, doctors and psychiatrists may diagnose you with clinical depression.

The Connection Between Depression & Addiction

woman with depression taking drugs

Research shows that there’s a clear connection between depression and substance use challenges. About one-third of people living with depression have a problem misusing alcohol. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association (ADAA), about 20 percent of Americans with anxiety or depression also have a substance use disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that people with a mood disorder like depression are twice as likely to misuse substances than a person without a mood disorder.

Behavioral health experts call the presence of a mental health disorder and addiction “comorbidity.” According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 9 million adults fall into this category, experiencing both mental health and substance use challenges.

How Depression Can Lead to Addiction

One of the most debilitating aspects of depression is the inability to cope with stress and difficult feelings. Instead of reacting to stress and difficult emotions in a healthy way, depression can either overwhelm you with negativity or make you feel entirely numb. When you’re overloaded with defeatist thoughts or completely desensitized, you might feel scared, hopeless, and alone, as well. Addiction thrives off of these isolating emotions.

1. Depression Can Prompt You to Self-Medicate

The most obvious way depression leads to drug and alcohol addiction is through self-medication. It’s a simple yet destructive process. Symptoms of depression can make you feel down, miserable, hopeless, guilty, and suicidal. You want the pain to end but no one seems to understand what you’re going through. To help take the edge off, you have a drink or two to calm your nerves or take a stimulant to jolt your way out constant sadness. It works temporarily, but ultimately you’re left feeling worse than before. In a desire to feel good again, you use again and again until your brain develops a tolerance for the addictive substance. By the time this happens, you’re addicted and have a high risk of developing a substance use disorder.

2. Depression Can Make You Scared to Ask for Help

Depression can also make you scared to ask for help. Admitting your symptoms of depression out loud can make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. Being honest about your lack of self-worth and overwhelming sadness may make you shy away from telling others about your pain. Not asking for help leaves you with two main choices: self-medicate or suffer in silence alone. Both choices can make you even more vulnerable to drug or alcohol addiction.

3. Depression May Make You Feel Unworthy of Getting Better

One major feature of depression is feeling unworthy. Ruminating thoughts and low neurotransmitters levels can send you down a rabbit of self-loathing. When you’re stuck feeling unworthy, you might lose all desire to get better. If that’s the case, you may turn to drinking or taking drugs as an alternative. You might even resist help when it’s offered to you. Without help, overcoming depression and addiction can be extremely difficult. As a result, depression can easily continue the cycle of self-medication and addictive, unhealthy behavior patterns.

4. Depression Can Convince You That Treatment Won’t Work

Depression might also convince you that everything, even treatment for substance use challenges, is hopeless. If you believe that treatment won’t be effective, you can easily continue to spiral out of control. Such extreme levels of hopelessness might also trigger suicidal thoughts. If left unchecked, these suicidal thoughts could lead to a suicide attempt. An unsuccessful attempt to take your own life with pills can disguise itself as a “high,” which could open the door to an addiction to prescription drugs.

If you or a loved one are contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week in both English and Spanish.

Treatment for Depression and Addiction

In many ways, depression can open the gateway to addiction. Dealing with both a mood disorder and substance use challenges can be a scary and seemingly never-ending cycle. Luckily, here at Genesis Recovery, we offer a dual diagnosis program that can help you recover from mental health and addiction challenges.

Don’t believe the lie in your head that you’re too far gone or that treatment doesn’t work. You can begin again and we can help you restore your life. Call us today at 619-797-7319 if you or a loved one are dealing with depression or addiction.

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