The Link Between Depression and Addiction

“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why does everyone else seem happy and content, but I am not?” Have you ever asked yourself these types of questions? Feelings of not belonging, lack, and inadequacy often proceed addictions. But the real root of these issues is often depression. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has released research that shows a direct connection between mental disorders, such as depression, and addiction. It is estimated that almost 7.9 million people in the U.S.. have both mental health issues and substance abuse issues.

Understanding the causes of your depression is often a vital step in recovering from substance abuse.

Who Is Most At Risk for Depression?

Although anyone can suffer from depression, there are certain groups of people who are more at risk than others. Research shows that the highest instances of depression are seen among:

  • Middle-aged adults
  • African Americans and Hispanics
  • Those without medical insurance
  • Unemployed individuals

Symptoms of Depression

Many people have a narrow view of depression and assume that depression only manifests as an inability to function, staying in bed all day, and completely dropping out of life. The truth is, though, depression can manifest in many forms. In some instances, the most depressed individuals are still highly functioning and continue to “push on” despite how they feel.  Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Body pain
  • Insomnia
  • Hopelessness
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Undereating
  • Overeating
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeping too much
  • Lack of interest
  • Isolation
  • Lack of concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts

The Connection Between Depression and Addiction

Experts still do not fully understand which affects the other more. Does depression cause addiction, or do addictive tendencies cause individuals to feel depressed? Each individual will have their own personal journey and experiences which can affect their particular situation. There are some studies that suggest that excessive use of alcohol can induce depression in some people. Scientists believe that this is caused by the effect which alcohol has on serotonin levels. Serotonin is the feel-good chemical that naturally occurs in our bodies to stabilize our moods. When alcohol is used excessively, over time it lowers the naturally occurring levels of serotonin. This can leave an individual feeling unmotivated, hopeless, and alone.

On the flip side of this theory, is the idea that individuals were experiencing depression first and have started using substances in an effort to self-medicate. Because addictive substances can have such a dramatic effect on serotonin levels, self-medicating in this way is only ever a short term solution. The substance abuse will cause serotonin levels to malfunction, thus causing greater feelings of depression in the long run. The negative effects of substance abuse will also further contribute to feelings of unworthiness, self-loathing, and hopelessness. This creates a destructive cycle.

How to Break The Cycle

While caught in this cycle it is difficult for those suffering to create an action plan which will break the cycle. This is when treatment becomes an important part of the recovery process. In a treatment program, an individual will have the resources and support to help them identify the causes of their depression/addiction cycle. Getting to the root of these issues is key in starting the path to recovery.

Treatment programs will address the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of the addiction and will seek to develop action plans an individual can begin at a pace that is both practical and appropriate for them.

Treatment programs such as that offered through Recovery Corps Los Angeles also offer the very important element of accountability, which is often something individuals with addiction problems struggle with.