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The link between depression and addiction: Does one cause the other?

Depression and addiction are both very common medical issues. An estimated 16.2 million people in the US have at least one major depressive episode in a year. This means that 1 in 15 Americans struggle with this mental illness every year. In addition to the millions of people who experience major depressive episodes, many people also experience high-functioning depression.

Substance abuse disorders are also common. Almost 21 million Americans have an addiction to at least one substance. Chances are you likely know someone with either an addiction, a mental illness, or both. These issues can be treated with the help of a medical professional, which is why it’s important to seek treatment if you suspect you may have an addiction or a mental illness-like depression. 

What is Depression? 

A severe depressive episode can cause extreme feelings of low energy and a lack of interest in regular activities. During major depressive episodes, many people have difficulty fulfilling their responsibilities, participating in activities they typically enjoy, and sticking to routines. These depressive episodes can be debilitating. 

Not all depressive episodes lead to people staying in bed all day. Many people with depression experience high-functioning depression. High-functioning depression leads to chronically low moods and the loss of a sense of well-being. Similar to major depressive episodes, high-functioning depression can impact nearly every aspect of your life. Whether you experience chronic high-functioning depression or have had a major depressive disorder, these mental illnesses are serious medical issues.

Depression can have many possible causes, including stressful life events, genetics, and side effects from medications. When an individual is experiencing depression, it’s important to seek help because this mental illness can worsen when left untreated, and many health and social issues can arise from depression. Depression can cause insomnia, weight fluctuations, and inflammation in the body. In some circumstances, depression can also lead people to develop a substance abuse disorder. 

What is Addiction?

Just like other mental illnesses, when someone has a substance addiction, it can have a major impact on their thoughts and actions. Addiction is usually caused by habit-forming drugs. When someone begins using a habit-forming substance, it creates feelings of pleasure and calm until the substance wears off. 

The body begins to form tolerances to substances like drugs and alcohol when they’re frequently used. Individuals require increasingly high doses to achieve the same effect. Often, when the individual goes without a drug they’ve been taking regularly, they’ll experience intense withdrawal symptoms, making it very difficult to break the addiction. 

Experiencing Addiction and Depression Together

Addiction and substance abuse disorders are very commonly seen in individuals who also experience depression. In fact, roughly one-third of adults with substance abuse disorder also have a diagnosis of depression. When individuals experiencing mental illness don’t have the knowledge or access needed to manage their illness healthily, they may turn to substances to manage the symptoms. Many drugs and alcohol cause feelings of pleasure. 

Some substances mimic the feeling of pleasurable brain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. Other substances cause the brain to release extra amounts of these chemicals. When an individual is experiencing depression, they may be deficient in these chemicals, which puts people with depression at a much higher risk of developing an addiction. 

Unfortunately, the feelings of pleasure during drug use are temporary. Other than the fleeting pleasure experienced while taking the drug, substance use typically increases the symptoms of depression. Some people who were not diagnosed with depression prior to drug use, begin to see symptoms of depression after developing an addiction. 

How To Know When You Have An Addiction or a Mental Illness

Both addiction and depression often go undiagnosed. Many people don’t realize they have a problem that could be treated with help. It’s important to know what the symptoms of both of these issues look like so you can get treatment and feel better. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical professional to discuss what type of treatment could be good for you.

Depression Symptoms
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling excessively tired
  • Hopelessness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Feeling worthless
  • Lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Addiction Symptoms
  • Isolation
  • Compulsions to use the substance
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Taking increasing doses
  • Lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy

There is crossover in the symptoms of addiction and depression, which is why it’s essential to talk with a medical professional to determine if your symptoms are caused by depression, addiction, or both. 

How To Treat A Dual Diagnosis of Depression and Addiction

If you have a dual diagnosis of depression and addiction, it’s important to follow a treatment program that addresses both issues. It can be highly difficult to recover from either issue if you’re still experiencing symptoms from the other issue. When discussing treatment options with medical providers, be sure to inform the provider of your dual diagnosis and discuss whether that provider has experience treating dual diagnosis. 

Treatment programs for a dual diagnosis typically include a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, developing healthy coping strategies, building strong support systems, and, in some cases, mental health medication. 

Inpatient rehab can be very beneficial for a dual diagnosis of depression and addiction. This type of program offers around-the-clock treatment, allowing medical providers to support you through symptoms and help you find relief. If you or someone close to you could benefit from receiving dual diagnosis treatment or inpatient rehab, reach out to a provider like Jackson House. 

You don’t have to be sure of the type of treatment you need when you reach out to an expert. Medical professionals are trained in helping you determine your needs and the best approach for helping you reach total sobriety and a positive sense of well-being. It can seem daunting to begin the path toward recovery, but there’s help available for anyone. The sooner you begin the recovery journey, the sooner you’ll be living your happiest, most fulfilling life. 

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