Addiction is challenging enough to deal with on its own, but it’s even more painful when coupled with depression. Many individuals who struggle with addiction also struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder. In order to truly and fully recover, you have to address both the depression and addiction. Understanding the connection between the two can help you better understand your own mental health or the mental health of a loved one who deals with these disorders.
Factors That Cause Depression and Addiction
Many of the genetic and environmental factors that cause addiction can also contribute to depression. Some people are more likely than others to develop depression and addiction based on their family history, their childhood experiences, their neurology, or other risk factors.
Although there is still some debate on how much heredity plays a role in depression and addiction, research does suggest that your genetic makeup could make you more likely to develop certain mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders.
Trauma is another factor that can contribute both to depression and to addiction. If you survived a traumatic childhood, an abusive relationship, or another painful or dangerous life event, you might struggle with the symptoms of depression as a result. It’s very common for people to turn to substances and develop addiction to cope with trauma, too.
Which Happens First?
The connection between depression and addiction is complicated, so you might not be able to identify which disorder developed first. While it’s natural to want to pinpoint a specific cause and create a clear timeline of events, mental health is a complex and multifaceted topic, and it may take many years of therapy and self-exploration to fully understand your addiction and depression.
Depression can cause addiction when you turn to substances to cope.
Depression causes intensely painful symptoms that can feel inescapable. If you hit a low point with your depression, you might look for anything that will make you feel better. For some people, substance use masks the pain and provides temporary relief. When substances are your primary or only source of comfort, though, you’re at high risk of addiction.
Addiction can cause depression when the substance abuse affects your brain, emotions, and behaviors.
As your brain and body become dependent on drugs or alcohol, your addiction rewires your brain. Addiction and withdrawal symptoms vary between different substances, but in many cases, quitting using the substance can lead to severe symptoms of depression. You might feel completely empty, hopeless, or lost without your drug of choice, so you return to your addiction.
Addiction and depression become a cycle.
You might have turned to substances to cope with depression, or you might have developed depression after your addiction took hold in your brain. Regardless of which came first, you may find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle. When you try to quit, your depression gets worse. Then, you fall back into addiction, which further strengthens your depression.
Signs of Co-occurring Addiction and Depression
Co-occurring depression and addiction can be difficult to identify because both disorders share certain symptoms. The following are some signs that you might be dealing with a dual diagnosis:
- You feel sad, hopeless, or apathetic most of the time even when you aren’t using substances
- You need drugs or alcohol to get through your day
- You use substances to escape from painful memories or to numb your pain
- You can’t remember the last time you felt happy or satisfied without substances
- You struggled with your mental health before your substance abuse began
How to Help Someone With Depression and Addiction
The best way you can help a friend or family member who has a substance abuse disorder is to approach them with empathy. Addiction can cause a great deal of shame, guilt, and fear, and these feelings often prevent an individual from seeking support. Even though addiction can cause outbursts and difficult behaviors, try not to judge, criticize, or condemn your loved one for their disorder. Instead, tell them how much you care about them, and let them know that you want them to recover and are here to help.
Recovery is ultimately the decision of the individual affected. You cannot force someone into recovery, but you can walk beside them as they choose to take steps toward healing. Because your loved one struggles with depression, they may feel too fatigued or unmotivated to seek out treatment options. In this case, you can support them by researching treatment centers or therapists and helping them arrange the logistics of their care.
Depression and addiction are both challenging disorders, and they become even harder to manage when they occur at the same time. Recovery is always possible, though, and it is always worth putting in the work. Dr. Howard Samuels offers therapy for addiction and co-occurring disorders, including depression and anxiety. Reach out to us today to connect with an addiction therapist in Los Angeles.