Underlying Issues of Addiction: Depression

Addiction is a complex disorder and it isn’t always possible to identify the cause. However it is estimated that at least half of all people with a substance abuse disorder also struggle with an underlying issue such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or trauma. Underlying disorders are often undiagnosed and people may be completely unaware of the problem – they only know that life isn’t working the way it should. Addiction often results when people turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to bury (or self-medicate) emotional or mental pain and discomfort.

Drugs, Alcohol and Depression

Drugs and alcohol serve a purpose for people who feel depressed. They feel better after consuming alcohol or drugs. The problem is that this "feeling better" is short-lived because tolerance develops, people need more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect and thus become addicted. This is a detrimental vicious cycle, as addiction doesn’t solve the original problem of depression, but instead, makes it much worse.

Alcohol – Depressed people often turn to alcohol to “drown their sorrows,” or “take the edge off.” It’s true that a drink can temporarily ease stress and anxiety, but alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can actually trigger negative emotions such as hopelessness, sadness or tiredness. Alcohol can also cause or exacerbate feelings of anger, aggression or anxiety.

Stimulants – It makes sense that a depressed person might turn to stimulants to pick up a low mood. Unfortunately, stimulants such as amphetamines are dangerous drugs that can cause or exacerbate symptoms of depression. Cravings for the drug are powerful and depression during withdrawal can be “brutal” as many patients report.

Benzodiazepines – Drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan are often used to self-medicate depression, but the drugs have significant potential for addition. “Benzos” can increase feelings of depression, and can actually dull a person’s ability to feel both pleasure and pain.

Marijuana – Marijuana can make depressed people better, but because it has both, sedative and stimulant qualities, use of the drug to self-medicate depression can backfire and again, make the problem much worse.

Treatment for Addiction and Depression

We at Paracelsus always treat the underlying depression along with the addiction. Treating the addiction alone may appear to work for a time, but relapse is common for people whose depression remains untreated and who don’t learn positive ways to manage negative emotions.

If you are struggling with addiction and depression, treatment can help you to recover from both ailments and learn to develop new strategies for coping with difficult emotions. Many people before you have done so!

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