Depressed People, Are They More Prone to Addiction?
In addiction and mental health treatment, the co-occurrence of depression and substance abuse is so common that psychologists and researchers have a name for it: comorbidity, a term that describes the presence of a secondary disease coexisting along with a primary disease. Depression and substance abuse can play off and prey on one another, wreaking a greater havoc within the individual suffering them than each disease could inflict alone.
A general claim within the recovery movement and culture is that substance abuse and addiction can cause mental illness, but mental illness cannot causeaddiction. In actuality, the truth is much more hazy and gray. Untreated mental illness can trigger substance abuse in some people — as many as 20 percent of the addicted population developed their dependency in response to a mental health issue.
While in many ways, the causes of depression and substance abuse’s comorbidity is much like the debate regarding the chicken or the egg, the truth remains that the two are often linked, and their effects on one another can be disastrous. Here is a closer look at the ways in which depression and addictioncan affect one another, as well as why options for treatment must tend to them both.
Increase in Symptoms
Both addiction and depression exhibit specific symptoms in the life of someone suffering from either or both. From problems at work or school to behavior changes and difficulties in relationships, one of the worst parts of suffering fromdepression and addiction is that the symptoms of both diseases have a tendency to increase due to the existence of the other. While suicide is always a risk for people struggling with depression, that risk increases when a substance abuse issue is also present. Both the personal impairment of an addiction and the accompanying social isolation increase as well. Other psychiatric disorders can also make an appearance, such as anxiety and panic disorder.
How Treating One Will Not Solve the Other
Even if someone’s depressed mental state led to a pattern of self-medication with alcohol that became a full-blown addiction, simply treating the depression will not take care of the alcoholism. When it comes to the comorbidity of these two diseases, treating one cannot result in a “clearing up” of the other, because they are separate issues. Each disease is specific unto itself and has mental, emotional, social and physical issues of its own that must be addressed before a person can recover.
In both addiction and depression, the brain is affected. For addicts, addiction works within the brain’s neural pathways to create a craving for the substance of addiction, as well as a loss of control over the use of the substance. It even overrides the natural and biological tendency to preserve one’s self by maintaining the craving in light of serious negative consequences.
Addictive drugs create a quick and shortened route to the brain’s rewards system and its pleasing flush of good-feeling dopamine. This means other considerations like going to work in order to pay the mortgage instead of skipping work and spending money on getting high can take a backseat. That feeling of reward and the quick route to it can be employed and craved so often that the brain actually relearns what it wants.
Depression affects people in primarily cognitive and emotional ways, and while how it affects the brain isn’t fully known or understood, the fact that it does affect the brain is obvious. Because depressed people feel so down, empty and hopeless, succumbing to the highs of substance abuse in order to bypass the negative feelings does seem to provide relief in the short-term.
However, since mind-altering drugs rewrite the brain’s path to its rewards center, a depressed person who abuses drugs or alcohol unwittingly enters an environment where their brain is being changed — a scenario that makes treatment much more complicated. For the individual on the ropes of comorbidity then, suffering from both addictionand depression creates a markedly more complicated landscape in which to tackle recovery.
Professional Help That Treats Both
When comorbidity exists, the only path to recovery involves treating both diseases, because without a dual treatment plan, not only is recovery harder to accomplish, but relapse is also more likely. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether an addiction caused the depression or the depression triggered a slide toward substance abuse. When it comes to treatment, comorbidity requires a very particular expertise that, thankfully, can be found.
*Data Courtesy: David Johnson, he began his career as a journalist writing on health and well-being topics on a local newspaper. He is now a freelance journalist, lecturer and speaker. He has a particular interest in issues that overlap medicine and health.