Double Trouble: Understanding the Link Between Depression and Addiction

Nov 8, 2018 | Rehab

Are you or your loved one suffering from both depression and addiction?

You’re not alone in this struggle. In fact, it’s common for both these conditions to go hand-in-hand.

A study by the National Institute of health found that 33% of people living with depression also struggle with addiction.

And research from the National Institute of drug abuse found that depression is twice as likely to develop into addiction.

But why are these two conditions so intertwined?

In this article, you’ll learn more about the link between the two to better understand how you can break the cycle.

What Is Depression?

First, it’s important to understand what depression is and isn’t.

Depression is not sadness. Depression is a diagnosed mental illness that causes sadness and the following symptoms:

  • Physical aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain and weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Increased irritability
  • Social anxiety disorder

Suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts may also occur with severe cases of depression as well.

What Is Addiction?

Likewise, addiction is often misunderstood.

The conversation surrounding addiction is often focused on personal choice. It’s actually a diagnosed disease of the brain.

Addictive substances manipulate how the brain receives signals.

Quickly, drugs activate feelings of euphoria. These feelings are produced by overproduction of neurotransmitters. This reinforces the cycle of physical addiction.

Unlike small surges of neurotransmitters produced through exercise, drugs produce large surges.

These large surges produce dopamine, a chemical compound needed to repeat addictive activities.

According to a survey by the National Institute on drug abuse, people take drugs to feel good, relieve stress, and to improve their career or work performance.

Peer pressure and curiosity can also lead to drug abuse.

Why Depression Leads to Addiction

Depression causes a myriad of symptoms, from physical to emotional. Thus, people struggling with this mental illness are particularly vulnerable to addiction.

But that’s not the only connection. Drugs and alcohol tap into the central nervous system to act like a depressant.

Substances trigger symptoms of depression, like physical pain or depressive thoughts. But the overproduction of neurons keeps individuals hooked.

Therefore, people become locked into a self-feeding cycle of depression and addiction. This is also called self-medicating.

Signs to watch:

  • Higher tolerance for substances, requiring more substances to achieve feelings of euphoria
  • High irritability, night sweats, anxiety, tremors, and nausea when withdrawing from substances
  • Feelings of intense shame, remorse, and sadness after taking drugs
  • Continuous relapsing back into addiction

These are common symptoms of clinically depressed people struggling with addiction.

The Risks of Addiction and Depression

While people with clinical depression are urged to quit drugs and alcohol, there’s a catch-22 that needs to be addressed.

Often, symptoms of depression can reappear during recovery and long-term sobriety. This is because drugs and alcohol are often used as self-medication by clinically depressed individuals.

Addiction cannot be addressed without addressing depression. That’s why it’s critical to approach treatment from a dual diagnosis perspective.

Here’s why:

Understanding the Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is when someone struggles with a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder at the same time.

In addition to symptoms of depression and addiction, here are several symptoms of dual diagnosis to watch:

  • Distancing oneself from family and friends
  • An increase in risk-taking behavior
  • Needing substances to function in daily life
  • Loss of impulse control
  • Financial problems
  • Reoccurring legal issues
  • Inability to keep a job

Depression can also accompany the following disorders, increasing the risk of substance abuse:

  • Manic depressive disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

People with these co-current disorders may have 2 to 15 percent chance of developing an addiction.

How to Treat Depression and Addiction

Dual diagnosis treatment does not approach each condition separately. It places addiction and depression on the same continuum.

Therefore, clinically depressed individuals are not denied treatment for addiction. And individuals with substance abuse disorders are not denied treatment for their depression.

Professionals who specialize in dual diagnosis treatment often use a range of approaches to treat addiction and depression.

For example, some professionals may take an integrative approach. This may include prescribing antidepressants along with a diet and exercise regimen.

Professionals may also use a therapy that involves talking to others. This can include group therapy, spousal and family education, and support groups with fellow patients.

Patients are also urged to surround themselves with a strong support team. This can include family and friends, sober acquaintances, and substance abuse sponsors.

Addiction, Depression, and Denial

Addiction and depression can also trigger what’s it called the DAD effect. This stands for depression, addiction, and denial.

Denial is one of the biggest barriers to receiving treatment.

Patterns of denial also stem from common childhood lessons.

If sadness is viewed as bad it’s much harder to recognize depression and get treatment.

If children are taught to avoid negative feelings, it becomes much harder to recognize them as symptoms of depression or dual disorders.

Phrases as simple as “you’re being overly sensitive” or “stop crying” can feed the cycle of denial.

That’s why healthy coping skills at a young age can help prevent addiction and depression.

The Next Step

Understanding the link between depression and addiction is the first step in breaking the cycle.

And understand that you’re not alone in your struggle.

Bookmark this article to have on-hand as you navigate your journey toward a healthier life.

Check back often for more ways to help yourself and your loved ones. Or contact us to talk directly to a professional who can help