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Depression and Addiction: Breaking the Cycle

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Depression is a mood disorder that is a common comorbidity with addiction. For many, the cycle of addiction and depression is incredibly challenging to break out of. Bouts of depression can lead to increased substance use, and substance use can lead right back to depressive symptoms. Understanding how they impact each other and learning skills to break the cycle is a vital part of treatment and long-term recovery. 

Depression

There are many different types of depression. However, each type is categorized as a common but serious mood disorder. While symptoms vary for each client, those experiencing a combination of the following for extended periods—meaning most of the day for at least two weeks—might be struggling with depression. 

Symptoms of depression include: 

  • Persistent sad or anxious mood
  • Feeling hopeless, irritable, frustrated, or restless
  • A sensation of guilt, hopelessness, or lack of worth
  • Loss of interest in previous activities or hobbies once enjoyed
  • Decreased energy
  • Struggling to concentrate or remember things
  • Aches and pain
  • Changes in appetite not related to other physical issues 
  • Thoughts of or attempts to commit suicide 

The symptoms of depression are more than sadness, which is a normal emotion in life. It has severe consequences, making it hard to get through each day. 

Depression and Addiction

Addiction is highly prevalent among those with depression. One study found that of individuals with depression, 16.5% had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and 18% had substance use disorder (SUD). 

Many theories exist to explain the high occurrence of depression and addiction. Some researchers have found that underlying genetic risk factors may be connected to both depression and addiction. Others have investigated how neurobiological pathways in addiction and depression may interact and create more risk for these disorders to co-occur. Another explanation to understand how the behaviors may impact each other is self-medicating. 

Self-Medicating

To cope with distressing mental health symptoms, many with depression turn to alcohol or drugs, which can result in addiction. This could be an effort to maintain relationships, decrease feelings of anxiety or hopelessness, or increase energy levels to maintain functionality at work. 

Those who feel frustrated or irritable may turn to opioids or something similar to soothe themselves, while someone battling consistent fatigue may choose cocaine to cope. More research is needed to better understand how individual symptoms impact self-medicating choices. 

Regardless of the reason, self-medicating often backfires. In fact, depression can be challenging to diagnose due to the symptoms of withdrawal, and substance intoxication can result in similar feelings. Thus, using drugs or alcohol to try to combat symptoms can end up making it worse. 

Chronic substance abuse has been shown to create or exacerbate mood disorders like depression.

The Cycle of Depression and Addiction

While substance use may initially dull the symptoms that a client is experiencing, long-term use often has the opposite effect. As a client becomes dependent on a substance, their body begins to need it, resulting in symptoms of withdrawal. 

Withdrawal symptoms typically decrease mood stability, leading to increased substance use. Thus, the cycle of depression and addiction is that addiction increases depressive symptoms and substance abuse as a coping mechanism worsens depression. This cycle can be incredibly challenging to get out of, especially when one doesn’t want to or feels one cannot take time for treatment or recovery. 

Skills to Break the Cycle 

Many skills can be helpful in breaking the cycle of depression and addiction. During recovery, one should: 

#1 Be Honest 

To get the help one needs, it is of utmost importance to be honest about the situation. It takes bravery for an individual to admit they are having a hard time. However, being able to acknowledge the situation for what it is and look for alternative solutions and coping mechanisms are vital first steps. 

When one is dishonest about how one feels or what one needs, there is a barrier to healing. As individuals learn to be honest about their needs, there is light at the end of the tunnel. They may have more support or tools than they think they do, and being honest allows them to pick their head up and look forward. 

#2 Engage in Treatment 

Depending on the specific situation, treatment will be unique for each individual. However, options for treatment may include the following:

  • Professional detox 
  • Dual diagnosis treatment 
  • Psychotherapy
  • Prescribed medications to treat depression
  • Support groups 

Regardless of the treatment options, taking time to research and fully engage in treatment can make a huge difference. Professional treatment will provide individuals with tools to address both depression and addiction simultaneously. Treating both conditions separately but concurrently can increase the odds of long-term recovery. 

#3 Find a Community

Whether in a treatment facility, support group, or one-on-one mental health care, support is integral to recovery. As individuals begin to address how they feel, a support network can help them to stay on track and offer continued tools on their road to recovery. For many, asking for help can be difficult, and it may take practice to open up and share. If it is something that an individual struggles with, they can take comfort in knowing they will get better and learn over time. 

Depression and addiction are common conditions that occur simultaneously and are often cyclical in nature. Many with depression reach for substances in an effort to diminish their symptoms. However, this often worsens symptoms over time and creates a physical dependency on substances. Being honest about this cycle, how you feel, and what you need is a monumental step. It takes courage to admit how you feel. As you get help and practice new coping skills, you will find that there are alternatives to self-medicating. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we offer unique care that includes dual diagnosis treatment to help you break the cycle. Call (714) 492-1119 today to learn about our programs and how we can help you. 

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