Understanding Depression and Addiction

Understanding Depression and Addiction

Addiction is often linked to some sort of underlying mental health condition and one of the most common is depression. The link between addiction and depression has been acknowledged for many years and researchers have provided a fairly thorough explanation of exactly how depression can contribute to addiction.

In this article we explain the link between depression and addiction.

What Is Depression?

Known medically as major depressive disorder, depression is a common condition that can become serious if it is left untreated. Depression affects your mood, self-esteem, and your ability to interact with people and accomplish daily tasks.

Depression can range from mild to severe, but symptoms are often similar across the board. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • A depressed mood – feelings of sadness or melancholy
  • Apathy, inability to find pleasure in regular activities
  • Changes in appetite: eating too much or too little
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Changes in sleeping patterns – insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Lethargy, fatigue, lack of motivation
  • Pacing or other mindless physical movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and shame
  • Cognitive difficulties, memory problems, difficulty focusing
  • Having a hard time making decision
  • Suicidal thoughts

People can experience several of these symptoms or, in some cases, all of them at the same time. These undesirable symptoms can impair a person’s quality of life and make it difficult for them to accomplish their daily tasks.

The symptoms of depression can also make a person more likely to experience an addiction.

How Depression Can Influence Addiction

Depression can be a difficult condition to live with. Depressed people often struggle with decreased productivity and have difficulty maintaining social connections. They may feel worthless or uninspired.

These negative feelings can drive someone towards drinking or using drugs in an effort to ease the pain. Alcohol and drugs promise short-term relief by providing an opportunity to numb these unpleasant feelings.

Some people use drugs to numb the pain of depression. For this purpose, it is not uncommon to find people using sedatives like opioids or benzodiazepines. These drugs sedate the mind and body allowing people to slip off into a place where they do not have to acknowledge their feelings.

Other people use drugs to overcome the difficulties of depression by overcompensating. People may use drugs like amphetamines or cocaine to provide the energy that their depression is robbing them of. While these drugs may provide a temporary chance for them to eliminate their depression, the end result inevitably leaves them feeling worse than they did before.

Dual Diagnosis

When someone struggles with addiction in addition to another mental health disorder, it is known as a dual diagnosis. Also known as a co-occurring disorder, a dual diagnosis can make it more difficult to treat addiction.

A dual diagnosis is actually quite common. According to some studies, about one in every three adults who struggle with drug addiction have another underlying mental health condition.

Addiction or Coping Mechanism?

If you’re using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, it’s important to be aware of the signs of addiction. Many people believe that they are simply using substances responsibly in an effort to improve their lives. Unfortunately, this is a slippery slope.

If you’re experiencing any of the following, you are most likely approaching the territory of addiction.

  • Drug or alcohol tolerance. Drug tolerance occurs when your body becomes accustomed to the substances that you’re consuming. Tolerance is one of the earliest signs of addiction and indicates that you need to decrease your usage or risk becoming seriously dependent on drugs.

  • Withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms occur when your body becomes fully dependent on a drug. They occur because your body is unable to function without the drugs that you’ve been using. Withdrawal symptoms can range from anxiety and sweating to more serious problems like seizures.

  • Remorse, guilt, and shame. If you’re feeling bad about yourself after using drugs or alcohol then this is a sign that you may be becoming addicted. Nobody wants to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but the allure of having your unpleasant feelings numbed often overcomes the rational mind. Unfortunately, the unconscious mind remains aware and often reminds you of your unhealthy choices by producing feelings of shame, remorse, or guilt.

    This can be a difficult situation, especially when one considers that many depressed people begin to use drugs or alcohol to numb feelings of shame or guilt in the first place. They may confuse the compounded feelings with those of their original depression and continue to use larger doses of drugs in order to numb their increasing intensity.

  • Relapse. If you’ve attempted to stop using drugs or alcohol and find yourself unable to stop, then you’re likely experiencing an addiction. At this stage, it’s a good idea to seek help from a professional rehab group.

Addiction Can Also Cause Depression

It’s important to note that addiction can also cause depression in people who have never experienced depression. Addiction can also intensify an individual’s depressive feelings and behavior.

Depression and Withdrawal

When you use drugs, you will experience feelings of elation. This is why people continue to use drugs despite acknowledging the negative consequences. However, what comes up must go down.

People who are experiencing a drug ‘comedown’ – the period after the drug’s initial effects have worn off – often feel depressed. This is true even for people who have never experienced depression in their lives. 

As the initial rush of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) subsides, you will be left feeling dejected and lethargic. This is because the brain now has to work extra hard to produce neurotransmitters that were released in high quantities by the drug.

If you’ve been using drugs or alcohol for an extended period, you may also have to deal with depression as a long-term consequence. Depression is a common withdrawal symptom and can last for many days after you have last used drugs.

Some people also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This is a protracted, often psychological, withdrawal period that can last for weeks, months, or even years after you’ve stopped using drugs. Depression is one of the most common symptoms of PAWS and occurs when your brain has difficulty learning how to regulate or reproduce the neurotransmitters that are responsible for your mood.

Depression as a Response to Addiction

Other people may fall into a depression because of the addiction itself. Depressive symptoms can emerge simply because they are ashamed or guilty about their addiction. 

Regardless of what reason you started using drugs, the burden of addiction is a difficult one to carry. Many people are hesitant to reach out for help regarding their addiction due to fear of stigma or shame. This can cause them to feel isolated and alone, which can drive them further down the path of addiction.

These factors can contribute to depression. Some people with addictions also engage in behaviors that they would otherwise never consider. Theft, lying and manipulation are not uncommon behaviors among drug users and alcoholics. People may fall into a depression simply due to the shame of acting in a way that they believe is immoral.

Treatment for Addiction & Depression

If you’re going to try to treat your addiction, then it’s important to acknowledge your depression. Addiction recovery is bound to fail if the recovering addicts don’t address the underlying cause of their addiction – in this case, depression.

If you’re reading this, then you’re already one step ahead. Acknowledging that you struggle with depression will allow professionals to properly decide how you can move your treatment forward. In many cases, a large portion of addiction recovery is helping users discover what the issues underlying their addiction are.

If you have a dual diagnosis then it’s important that you seek treatment at a proper facility. You will need to see counselors and therapists who are effective at treating both addiction and depression. Once you find a facility you will likely be guided through a process similar to this.

  • You will receive counseling and therapy to help you understand your depression. You may be guided through your past experiences and memories in an effort to identify where the depression emerged. You will then be taught how you can overcome your depression through the use of various skills and techniques.

  • You will be educated in regard to addiction recovery. Addiction counselors will teach you how you can adapt certain tools and tactics to overcome cravings and addictive behaviors.

  • You will get to take part in group meetings or group counseling where you’ll be able to share your experience with others. Here you’ll be able to learn more about your problem from others who have been in a similar situation.

The most important part is finding a treatment facility that is willing to accommodate you as an individual. People who have a dual diagnosis are going to need tailored treatment protocol. They will not respond as well to a generalized rehab program.

Once you’ve found a treatment center that is willing to work with dual diagnosis patients, you’ll be asked a series of intake questions. These questions will help to match you with the right counselors and therapists to help you overcome your struggles.


Depression can contribute to addiction. Addiction can also cause depression. Learning how to work through both of these issues is instrumental if you want to overcome your addiction once and for all.

Take the time to find a facility that is willing to work with people who struggle with both depression and addiction. Once you have found the right facility, take the time to get to know the counsellors and therapists working with you. The stronger your relationship with them, the more effective your treatment program will be.

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