Understanding Depression and Addiction

Written by Journey Pure Staff

Everyone has bad days. At some point, we all experience the emotional weight of break-ups, work-related stressors, loss, family quarrels, or the gripping turmoil of uncertainty. For some, however, emotional lows seem to plague everyday life and last much longer that than the typical events that would ordinarily provoke them. For those experiencing depression, feelings of hopelessness, despair, and lethargy occur every day and can last for weeks, months, or sometimes, years.

Depression & Substance Use

According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Depression has a wide array of both psychological and physical symptoms. Psychological symptoms may include: dull or low mood, lack of interest in usual activities, slowed focus and thinking, thoughts of death or suicide, and feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness. Some physical symptoms of depression may include physical exhaustion, unwanted weight loss or gain, or low energy and sleepiness. The symptoms of ongoing depression, if left untreated, can negatively affect one’s personal relationships, occupation, and long-term mental and physical health. Also, people battling depression often abuse drugs and alcohol in efforts to regulate low moods and decrease isolating or overwhelming feelings.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that persons diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders (such as depression) are about twice as likely have a co-occurring diagnosis of a substance use disorder. Although there is a heavy stigmatization of substance abuse in our social environment, it is clear that persons with depression seek drugs and alcohol as an adaptive strategy in order to medicate the underlying symptoms of a depressed mood. In this regard, addiction is most obviously not the result of a broken moral compass, but rather an adaptive coping strategy that aims to find a sense of ease amidst chronic internal distress.

Consequences of Prolonged Use

The problem with self-medicating through recreational drug or alcohol use is that it most often leads to dependence and a deficiency of inner emotion regulation skills. Because drug and alcohol use can have such an immediate and significant effect on one’s mood, persons struggling with depression quickly become heavily reliant on substances to manage low-moods and find normalcy. Also, both addiction and depression are charged with feelings of unmanageability and hopelessness. When these conditions co-occur, they negatively reinforce each other, creating a devastating thicket of guilt, shame, and feelings of worthlessness.

Finding a Solution

Treating co-occurring conditions is complex because each disorder can potentially intensify the symptoms of the other. Through an individualized treatment approach, as is found at JourneyPure, we can tend to the specific needs of each client through medication management, individual and group therapy, and ongoing case management and aftercare planning. Every day we welcome those struggling with addiction and depression into our facility. Reach out today if you would like to learn more.