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  • Writer's pictureChris Thompson

Depression & Addiction: How They Work Together



Mental illness can display itself in a variety of ways, all of which can be detrimental to how a person functions in their daily life. People who struggle with mental illness often realize they have multiple problems controlling their emotions and actions. Treating one issue without treating the other can make recovery difficult.


This is especially seen with people who struggle with substance use disorder. Frequently underlying mental health issues contribute to a person’s addiction, and when they work together, they can feel unstoppable.


To get help with your addiction, you have to recognize how depression is impacting your choices and seek help for both. Don’t forget — this is your comeback story.


To learn more about how depression and addiction work together, keep reading.


What Is Depression?

Depression is an extremely common mood disorder that impacts how you feel and function. When you are depressed, you have to fight daily to complete simple tasks and care for yourself.


You experience intense feelings of loneliness and despair and trying to find meaning and purpose can leave you feeling lost and searching for an escape. Many people that are depressed will self-medicate with substances that do even more harm than good.


Common Types of Depression

People who struggle with clinical depression can experience it in many ways. No two people will undergo the same process or show the same symptoms, making it difficult to ask for help. If you aren’t sure what’s going on, it’s hard to know what to ask for help with.


There are a few different types of depression that you or a loved one might be struggling with:

  • Major Depressive Disorder: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), MDD is a depression that lasts for more than two weeks and can be recurring in a person’s lifetime. It leaves people feeling deeply fatigued and low energy, sometimes suicidal, and makes it difficult to take care of basic needs, like eating, sleeping, and hygiene.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Depressive episodes related to SAD are triggered by changes in temperature and light, which leaves people with low energy, mood changes, overeating habits, and sleep disturbances.

  • Dysthymia: While it’s a milder form of depression, it is persistent and must be present for more than one year. People with dysthymia might appear chronically gloomy or irritated with very few changes in their behavior over a long period.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression impacts everyone differently, making diagnosing it difficult or even believing that you have it difficult. Everyone has a bad day some days, sometimes even short-term ruts, and you can do nothing to prevent that.


However, if you’re experiencing depression in any capacity, you will soon be able to see the negative impact it has on your mind, body, social life, and overall well-being.


Some symptoms of depression to keep an eye out for are:


  • Loss of interest and motivation

  • Problems with sleep

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Irritability

  • Becoming more pessimistic

  • Loss of pleasure in daily activities

  • Poor hygiene

  • Unintentional changes to your weight

  • Fatigue

  • Low energy levels

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

  • Self-harming

  • Self-medicating

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic medical disease influenced by risk factors like genetics, environmental factors, and life experiences. People who suffer from addiction often want to escape their reality and use substances to help get them there.


Those who struggle with other mental health disorders are more likely to suffer from addiction because drug abuse and alcohol abuse allow a person to forget their problems. Addiction can impact anyone; seeking addiction treatment and finding a good support system is the best way to fight against it.


Symptoms of Addiction

Addiction comes in many forms, with the most common substance use disorders being connected to alcohol and drug use. However, a person can also suffer from an addiction to porn, gambling, or food. How a person ends up in the addiction cycle reflects on the emotional turmoil they are going through on the inside.


Some signs that you or a loved one or family member are struggling with substance abuse or an addiction are:

  • Developing problems at work or at school

  • Putting yourself in risky positions while under the influence

  • Becoming more distant from friends and family

  • Spending all of your money on your addiction

  • Withdrawal side effects and cravings when you got without the substance

  • Having intrusive thoughts about substances

  • Developing a tolerance

  • Lying to loved ones about your usage

  • Neglecting hygiene and appearance

  • Having a lack of motivation and energy

  • Going through withdrawal symptoms

  • Taking substances regardless of if you want to or not

  • Hanging out with new people and losing close relationships

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Many factors contributing to depression also play into a person’s substance use disorder. When someone is struggling with two or more mental health disorders, it’s called dual diagnosis. This is when a person has co-occurring disorders that work together to make their life difficult.


What happens with a dual diagnosis is that both depression and addiction play into each other and can make seeking help even more difficult. Dual diagnosis can create a cycle of feeling depressed and using substances to cope or using substances and feeling depressed as you come down and see how your high has impacted you and those around you.


It can be a vicious cycle. To get help, you have to treat your dual diagnosis at the same time. One without the other may not help you out of your hole.


How Do Addiction and Depression Work Together?

Both addiction and depression involve past traumas, genetic history, and an imbalance in your brain chemistry. Not everyone who uses substances will develop an addiction, just like not everyone that experiences mental health crises develops depression.


Some people are more predisposed to have issues with both, and many people that struggle with one struggle with the other. Addiction and depression work in a cyclical fashion.


A person might feel depressed and decide to use substances to give them a rush of endorphins. Likewise, a person might use that substance, immediately feel shame and guilt, and be disgusted by their actions.


What ends up happening is that they add fuel to each other’s fire, making it more difficult to isolate your issues and seek out solutions.


Depression’s Impact on Addiction

When a person is struggling with depression, they are more likely to turn to substances to provide relief from their anguish. Whether it’s opioids or alcohol, people struggling with depression and other mental health conditions are at an increased risk of drug addiction.


Self-medicating happens when a person is seeking any sort of comfort and pain relief from their depression. People may use alcohol to drown out their sorrows, smoke weed to alleviate their sadness, or gamble to feel like they’re winning at least something in their life.


When you have less dopamine and serotonin in your brain, you will seek it out in other ways. You cannot provide enough of it on your own, so you need help from an outside source. Most people know that though bad for you, substances can give your depression immediate relief, which only encourages the development of addictions.


Addiction Encourages Depression

Using substances can have many negative effects on a person’s life. When a person develops an addiction, they may push the people that care the most away.


They may lose their job and develop a lack of motivation for things that they once loved. As you enter further into your addiction, you may not even realize that you’re digging yourself into a deep, dark hole.


As you begin to lose friends, motivation, comfort, stability, and happiness, the only thing that makes sense is depression. Good things in your life may no longer surround you, and this is when feelings of depression can arise in a person.


But how does someone get better when their addiction provides that much-needed dopamine? The only way to get help with your depression is to treat your addiction and vice versa. You will want to commit to finding help for both if you want to feel better and see actual improvements.


Seeking Help for Addiction and Depression

A person cannot enter recovery until they have treated their depression and addiction. You must learn how to cope with your depression in healthier ways so that you can avoid using substances or acting on your addiction.


Your treatment plan for depression may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with mental health professionals and starting medically-reviewed antidepressants such as SSRIs, support groups, and other treatment options.


For alcohol use disorder, dual diagnosis treatment may also include inpatient detox facilities or outpatient treatment centers to help you manage initial withdrawal symptoms and cravings.


Finding yourself a part of a community that encourages sobriety and supports mental health can help to get you on track to recovery.


Many people feel alone and isolated when they suffer from addiction, but being around a community of like-minded individuals can benefit you in ways you couldn’t imagine. Feeling understood and supported can make the path to addiction recovery and depression treatment programs much easier.


Get Help With Sober Sidekick

If you’re looking for recovery, sign up with Sober Sidekick, the online community of sober individuals who understand what it’s like to struggle to get out of a dark place. Talk with addiction professionals, read through addiction resources, find new ways to cope with addiction and depression, and build a community all from your Android or iPhone.


Don’t wait to reach out. Change your life now!


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