America is often portrayed in movies and on television as the land of plenty. Opportunities are everywhere, and everyone is happy every day. While it would be wonderful if that image reflected reality, the truth is that many Americans struggle with symptoms of depression for weeks or months at a time. In fact, More than 1 out of 20 Americans 12 years of age and older reported currently having depression.[1] While it’s hard to know what causes depression, we know that addiction plays a role in depression. For some, the addiction causes symptoms of depression. For others, the depression causes substance abuse to begin.

Living with both depression and addiction can be a struggle. The good news is that there are effective treatments that can be used to help ease symptoms and make life seem worth living once more. At Michael’s House, we specialize in providing care for people who have a Dual Diagnosis, such as a substance abuse issue as well as a mental health issue. If you have any questions about depression after reading this article, we would love to talk with you about the care we can provide.

Defining Depression

No one is happy all the time. In fact, almost everyone feels low from time to time. It’s part of being human, dealing with the stresses that come and go throughout the day. But for people with depression, a low mood is more than a passing cloud. Rather, a low mood tends to come on and then stay for a long period with no end in sight.

The symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but many people with depression report feeling:

  • Irritable
  • Extremely tired
  • Unable to concentrate or remember small details
  • Very hungry, or by contrast, not hungry at all
  • Hopeless about life
  • Unable to sleep, or able to sleep all day long without feeling refreshed
  • Physical pain[2]

Some people may develop a major depressive episode where they feel completely unable to eat, sleep, work or enjoy their lives for weeks at a time. Other people develop a more mild form of depression in which they still feel significantly altered and unable to cope. These people may experience depressive symptoms for years.

Link to Addiction

Evidence suggests depression and addiction share some of the same genetic markers. Both conditions seem to be inherited through the family line. For example, the National Institutes of Health found that a particular gene is linked to the chemical serotonin. Rats with this gene (and a lowered expression of serotonin) become depressed at higher levels when exposed to stress, compared to rats who do not have this gene. Similarly, monkeys with this gene tend to drink more alcohol in a sitting than monkeys who do not have this gene. Therefore, people with this altered gene could be at risk for both depression and addiction.

People are made up of more than just genes, however. Often, depression has a close link to stress in a person’s life. The loss of a marriage or the death of a family member puts an enormous amount of stress on a person’s emotional resiliency. If someone has a genetic predilection for depression, his symptoms may be stronger.

Even people without a genetic propensity for depression can still develop the disorder, when under an extreme amount of stress. When people feel low and sad, they may turn to drugs and alcohol to shut off the signal and to feel “normal” once more. Addiction can soon follow.

Some people develop addictions to drugs and alcohol and then develop symptoms of depression over time. Addiction can damage portions of the brain which leads to depression. Also, being addicted to drugs or alcohol often causes catastrophic life problems, such as loss of family, income, and home. All of these losses could also cause depression to surface.

While it might be interesting to speculate about addiction and depression, trying to determine which came first and why, it might not matter a great deal when it comes to treatment. What is important is that the depression is adequately diagnosed. When comprehensive treatment is provided, recovery rates are remarkable. It is important to stress, however, that both conditions should be treated at the same time in order for true healing to begin. People who only receive care for their depression, for example, might find that their addictions grow stronger as their mental health improves, and they may still face a variety of negative consequences that could push them back into depression. The reverse is also true. Both conditions must be addressed in a Dual Diagnosis treatment program.

Treatment Types

A variety of medications can be used to treat depression. These drugs correct chemical imbalances and make it easier to concentrate, sleep and enjoy life. In addition to medications, people with depression and addictions might benefit from targeted therapy sessions with a licensed counselor. This type of therapy is provided to many people who have addiction issues, but therapy for both addiction and depression can be slightly different than therapy for addiction alone. For example, a Dual Diagnosis therapy program might:

  • Provide information on symptoms of depression
  • Outline how drugs and alcohol make depression worse
  • Pinpoint triggers of depression
  • Highlight ways a person could deal with depression, without resorting to drugs

Research shows that some people with depression benefit from forms of therapies that build strong social connections. When an individual starts to feel low, they have other people to reach out to for love and support.[3] Through therapy, the person can learn to make new connections while avoiding people who represent the temptation to use. Some people benefit from family therapy. Other people benefit from participating in support groups, where they meet other people who are also learning to live a sober life.

If you struggle with addiction, depression, or have a Dual Diagnosis know that healing is truly possible. Please call us today at 760-548-4032 and we will be glad to answer all of your questions.

[1] Depression.

[2] Depression Basics.

[3] Overcoming Depression: How psychologists help with depressive disorders.