What Is Depression?
Depression often gets misunderstood as a temporary feeling of sadness or even just “the blues.” This could not be further from the truth. Everybody feels sad or down sometimes, but not everybody has depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.”
But what does this really mean? Part of the stigma around depression is that it can seem kind of vague, but thanks to years and years of research into depression, we now have a much more cohesive understanding of what depression really looks like.
Generally, a therapist or mental health expert will look for the presence of certain symptoms that have been going on for a period of two weeks or more. Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with depression:
- Prolonged feelings of sadness or melancholy
- Lack of interest in hobbies or other activities that you used to enjoy
- Changes in appetite (either eating more or less than usual)
- Low energy and difficulty motivating yourself to “engage” with daily tasks
- Instances of high or low-energy movements and behaviors, such as pacing back and forth or talking very slowly
- Disrupted sleep patterns, such as sleeping in all day or insomnia
- Emotions related to guilt
- Strong feelings of worthlessness (about yourself) or hopelessness (about the future)
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
- Difficulty making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide, including suicidal ideation (imagining your own death)
You don’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with depression. In fact, you may only show one or two of these symptoms and still have the condition. Depression doesn’t just exist in a vacuum, either. It often accompanies other mental health issues, such as anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse. In any case, it’s extremely important to talk to a trained professional as soon as possible, particularly if you’re feeling suicidal.
In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the link between depression and addiction.
How Depression Leads To Addiction
Substance abuse is often used as a coping mechanism for the symptoms of depression. When you’re feeling down, you want to feel better, right? But when you’re feeling depressed, regular activities that would usually make you feel good — like hanging out with friends or playing with your dog — may not do the trick. You may struggle to find things that you enjoy and that make you feel happy. This can lead many people with depression to try to change their mood chemically by using alcohol or drugs.
A more scientific explanation is that depression often causes an imbalance of chemicals in the brain associated with happiness and well-being, like serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals can help keep your mood in a stable place, but when there’s an imbalance, it may be more difficult to feel good. Drugs and alcohol can temporarily “boost” these neurochemicals, which can make you feel better for a brief period of time. But once the high wears off, you’ll feel just as bad, or even worse, than before. Moreover, long-term substance abuse can actually alter the natural balance of chemicals in your brain, making it harder to overcome the negative symptoms of depression.
But using drugs as a coping mechanism is just one example. There are actually a lot of different ways that depression can lead to addiction. For instance, if you want to overcome depression, you may use drugs that weren’t prescribed for depression as a way to self-medicate. This could inadvertently lead to addiction and failure to treat your depression.
Additionally, some of the symptoms of depression go hand-in-hand with drug or alcohol abuse. For example, when you’re depressed, you’re more likely to withdraw from socialization with friends and family. This may cause you to feel lonely, which might make you turn to drugs or alcohol to “fill the void.”
Depression Caused By Drug Addiction
As you can see, there are a number of different ways that depression can lead to addiction. But it’s important to understand the opposite can happen, too. Addiction to drugs or alcohol can happen independently of depression, but the abuse of these substances can also lead to depression. And as you can imagine, if drug and alcohol abuse can lead to depression, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t actually help treat the condition. On the contrary, substance abuse can actually make depression much, much worse.
There are many reasons that drug addiction can lead to depression, such as:
- Worsening of neurochemical imbalances
- Financial difficulties caused by substance abuse
- Difficulty maintaining personal relationships, leading to increased isolation
- Emotional stress and anxiety caused by withdrawal
Signs Of A Co-Occurring Disorder
It’s also important to remember that depression and addiction can be co-occurring conditions. In other words, they may come about at roughly the same time. The presence of depression and addiction can actually amplify the symptoms of both conditions, making it more challenging to address either effectively. Even if they didn’t happen at the same time, experiencing these conditions simultaneously is known as a dual diagnosis. This is why people suffering from depression and addiction often need professional help from a clinic that is experienced in dual diagnosis treatment.
If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with co-occurring disorders, you should look out for the following signs and symptoms:
- Substance abuse that is getting progressively worse
- Emotional instability and mood swings that are difficult to predict
- Poor hygiene or self-care
- Difficulty managing simple tasks, often due to inebriation
- Risky behavior, such as driving while intoxicated
- Secretive behavior
- Lying or stealing
Depression & Substance Abuse Treatment
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression and substance abuse, you must understand that there is a path to recovery. While treating a dual diagnosis is often more complex than treating either depression or addiction on its own, it’s vitally important to know that it is treatable. Recovery is very possible, but only if you reach out for help.
At Prosperity Haven, we offer inpatient rehab to treat depression and substance abuse simultaneously, led by a team of trained professionals. So, don’t continue suffering in silence. Reach out today to start your path toward a happier, healthier way of living.
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