How would someone with depression describe daily life? That person might use words like sad, hopeless, tired, apathetic, and weary. The person might describe days that seem endless, with nothing good expected. Or the person might simply seem too tired to even talk about what living with depression is like. If that person also uses drugs or alcohol, it might seem easier to take a hit instead of answering the question.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses of American adults. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that about 6.7 percent of American adults deal with a major depressive episode each and every year. It’s common for people who feel helpless, hopeless, and sad to turn to substance use and abuse in a misguided effort to feel better. It’s also common for people who abuse substances to develop symptoms of depression as their addictions deepen.
This combination of depression and addiction is known as a co-occurring condition. It’s something researchers are well aware of, and as a result, they’re adept at crafting treatment protocols that really could help you to feel better. If you’ve been stuffing down your feelings and hoping they’ll go away on their own, read on to find out more about why this co-occurring condition is dangerous, and what you can do in order to feel better.
For some people, issues of addiction and depression develop in response to a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one. The body goes through an amazing amount of stress in response to these triggers, and sometimes that changes the structure of the brain somehow. In research published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, researchers freely admit that they’re not quite sure why stressful episodes might trigger depression or substance abuse, but they suggest that stress seems to make the brain more vulnerable to both problems, and that they tend to come on at the same time.
That’s an important little bit of data, as it seems to suggest that some people struggle with depression and addiction in response to something they can measure, like stress or trauma. They turn to substance abuse for help, but depression strikes them anyway. And as that co-occurring disorder deepens, they may not ever get the chance to process, understand, and learn to cope with the trigger that caused the problem in the first place. It just lies there, waiting to be dealt with when sobriety returns.
That could lead to repeated relapses, as the trauma is never processed. As soon as the person tries to get better, the damage pops back up and dashes hopes of a recovery. In time, the situation can seem permanent, unless the person gets help, training, and support.
Starting with addiction
While it’s quite possible that some people develop co-occurring depression and addiction due to trauma, it’s also possible that some people start with addiction and develop depression later. At least, that’s what research from the journal Addiction suggests.
Here, researchers examined a series of studies about the issue, measuring what sorts of symptoms people reported and when they began. At the end of the study, researchers found that substance abuse, particularly abuse of alcohol, tended to appear before symptoms of depression appeared. This leads researchers to suspect that substances do some kind of cellular damage to the brain, and it’s this damage that leads to later depression.
That’s something people who study cocaine have been saying for years. That drug, and stimulants like it, tends to cause a surge of dopamine, which the brain uses to signal a happy emotion. In time, when those dopamine-producing cells wear out, the person is incapable of happiness and depression sets in. The chemicals cause that problem.
As researchers at the National Institute on Drug Use point out, depression can make it hard for people with addictions to both spot and eliminate their triggers. They aren’t sure what they should stay away from in order to remain sober, and if they do stumble into something that sparks a craving, they tend to give in. Triggers like this are everywhere, and they could include almost anything, such as:
- Places in which the person has abused substances
- People who once took substances with the person
- Images of the substance the person enjoys
- Television shows in which characters abuse substances
When a person has a lowered resistance to triggers or an inability to name what those triggers really are, temptation is always lurking around the corner. It’s hard to face that alone.
Additionally, some substances can amplify the negative feelings people experience while they’re in the grip of an addiction. Researchers at the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggest that alcohol and some types of drugs tend to make depressed people feel more impulsive, as though they should act upon the dark thoughts that move through their minds. This could lead some people to move from contemplating suicide to attempting suicide.
Even if boosted impulsivity doesn’t result in an attempt to end life, it could bring about other issues that are nearly as serious. People might quit their jobs, stop leaving the house, break up their marriages, or otherwise take permanent steps due to an impulse that’s driven by depression and heightened by addiction. In the moment, it seems reasonable. But later on, it could be devastating.
- Regular use of medications
- Participation in group therapy
- Frequent individual therapy sessions
- At-home work, including meditation and relaxation
Unfortunately, this kind of work is hard for people with addictions to accomplish. Their addictions bring chaos, including disrupted schedules and a lack of funding. It might be hard for people to support both an addiction and depression recovery, and some might choose to stay depressed rather than give up the substances they’re addicted to.
The right treatment
Again, depression is a treatable condition, but recovery can take time. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality suggests that many people with depression don’t react to the first medication they’re given, and that they often need to work closely with doctors to find the right mix of help. Some might also need to go to multiple therapy sessions before they feel even slightly better.
That doesn’t mean depression can’t be beaten, and it doesn’t mean that sticking with addiction is reasonable. But it does mean that people with co-occurring conditions need to enter treatment programs made just for them, and they need to stay in those programs for extended periods of time, until they feel control returning.
That’s the kind of care we can offer you at The Recovery Village. We offer comprehensive treatment programs for co-occurring conditions, including depression and addiction, and we have a fully trained staff that understands what you’ve been through and what you need to recover. Even if you’ve tried to get sober before and didn’t quite make it happen, we urge you to call us. Our approach is different, and it just might surprise you. Please call, and we’ll tell you more.