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Drug Addiction and Depression

The relationship between addiction and depression is complex, and the two conditions can develop in strikingly different ways in different people. However, people with both depression and drug addiction might use the same techniques in order to heal, no matter where the two issues originated.

Depression and an Addicted Lifestyle

teenLiving with an addiction can be a very traumatic experience. For some it means a life of isolation as their friends and family members may blame them or fight with them about their substance abuse. People struggling with addictions often lose their jobs, their life savings and their health, all in pursuit of the drugs they crave. They might say or do terrible things while on a binge—things they regret the next day—and those feelings of shame and embarrassment can lead to depression. Just the act of maintaining an addicted life can lead to such trauma that depression seems like an appropriate response.

Most addictive drugs bring about their effects by tweaking chemical levels inside the brain. These chemical changes inside the brain can exacerbate sad and low feelings. Signals associated with euphoria are often enhanced and elevated for extended periods of time. The brain, attempting to curb these elevated chemical levels, might respond by turning off chemical receptors or making fewer chemicals available. A brain like this, over time, is physically incapable of producing happiness signals or responding to low levels of euphoric chemicals. It’s primed for drug use, and without drugs, depression can easily set in.

People who are depressed and addicted might attempt to make things better by:

  • Taking larger doses of drugs
  • Switching to more powerful types of drugs
  • Taking drugs on a more frequent basis
  • Combining drugs in order to produce a more pronounced physical response

People with addictions and depression might also respond by taking their own lives. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), people with depression and addiction are more likely to commit suicide, as their emotional sadness is compounded by increased feelings of impulsivity that come with abusing drugs. While anyone with depression might think about ending his or her life, people who are addicted are so impulsive, they’re more willing to act on their ideas. They are living in the moment, unable to see the future consequences of the decisions they make now, and they could make terrible choices as a result.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that appears during the colder months of the year. According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms tend to be at their worst in January and February Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, a lack of interest in usual activities, social withdrawal, weight gain and a craving for foods high in carbohydrates.

Some report feeling sad or lacking energy, while others report not being able to feel anything emotionally. Be aware of the range of symptoms, and talk openly about depression—whether seasonal or not. For teens, depression can manifest itself as sulking, shyness, reluctance to go to school, clinging to a parent or pretending to be physically ill.

An Alternate Route

teen girlWhile it’s easy to see how drug use can lead to depression, some people come to their addictions in a desperate attempt to help them cope with their depression. In a 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.6 percent of Americans over the age of 12 had been experienced the symptoms of depression within the past two weeks. People living at or below the poverty line were more likely to experience symptoms of depression. These people can’t simply go to their doctors and ask for help with their feelings, as they lack the ability to pay for this kind of help. They are forced to find other ways to cope, and for them, addictive drugs might seem like a perfect solution.

Addictive drugs are powerful agents that can change the way a person feels, and very potent drugs are often quite inexpensive. For example, according to recent article produced by CNN,heroin costs as low as $6 per capsule.1 For people who can’t afford health care, this can seem like a low-cost solution to a very troubling problem.

Depression is also associated with a significant amount of social stigma. While researchers know that faulty chemical levels in the brain combined with severe environmental triggers cause this mental health issue, the average person in the community might still believe that people who are depressed are:

  • Lazy
  • Self-indulgent
  • Weak
  • Unwilling to “snap out of it”
  • Eager for attention

Asking for help for a depression issue could mean facing up to this kind of ridicule and condemnation, which is difficult at best. Using drugs is similarly frowned upon, but people with depression might feel as though they can keep their drug use hidden, while their depression might be harder to conceal.

People who self-medicate depression with drugs can undergo the same chemical changes described above, meaning that their already chemically deficient minds are subjected to even more extensive damage. In time, they may be unable to experience happiness or joy without access to drugs. They were already feeling bad, but over time, drug use can take the symptoms of depression to a deeper, more destructive level.

Treatment Options

guySome people with depression feel their symptoms ease when they’re provided with medications, and as a result, pharmaceuticals have become a front-line treatment for depression. According to a 2015 report by the Journal of American Medical Association, the percentage of American on antidepressants increased from 6.8 to 13 percent from 1999 to 2012.2 Clearly, more and more people are taking them.  In fact, a 2015 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that as many of two-thirds of all prescriptions for antidepressants are given to patients who have never met the criteria for severe depression. 2

However, people with addictions as well as depression often need more than just prescriptions if they are to get well. Antidepressants can’t cure a person’s cravings for drugs, and taking pills doesn’t help someone learn how to use the power of the mind rather than the power of the drug. Where people with addictions and depression might benefit from a short course of antidepressants, they most likely need the help of a therapy program.

In a Dual Diagnosis program for addiction and depression, people learn more about how these two conditions develop in tandem, and they begin to develop the mental and emotional resources they can use to lift their mood when it’s low, without reaching for the nearest dose of addictive drugs. In therapy, people also learn how to identify the people, places and things that cause a surge in cravings for drugs, and they can develop strategic plans to avoid these triggers.

Dual Diagnosis programs can be immensely helpful for people with addictions and depression, but not all treatment or rehab programs offer this kind of help. Some programs focus exclusively on issues of addiction, for example, while others deal only with the trappings of depression. Treating only one problem while leaving the other in place is dangerous, as it’s easy enough for the problem left untreated to rear its ugly head and derail any progress on the other front. In general, it’s best for people to search for Dual Diagnosis programs right from the start, so they’ll be assured of getting the targeted help they’ll need in order to recover.

At The Canyon, we provide an in-depth Dual Diagnosis program, designed to help our clients overcome addiction issues, depression issues or both. We use therapy, meditation, nutrition, counseling, support groups and more to help our clients understand their conditions, and we provide extensive follow-up care that can help you stay on track when their formal treatment program is complete. If you would like to find out more, or you’d like to schedule an intake appointment, please call us.


1 Evan Perez. Tory Dunnan and Dana Ford. CNN. “US Heroin Use Rising.” February 4, 2014. Accessed December 5, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/02/us/heroin-use-rising/

2 Justin Karter. Mad in America. “Percentage of Americans on Antidepressants Nearly Doubles.” November 6, 2015.Accessed December 7, 2016. https://www.madinamerica.com/2015/11/percentage-of-americans-on-antidepressants-nearly-doubles/


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