As research has shown, there are a number of mental and emotional health disorders that occur with high frequency alongside addiction to alcohol and drugs. Among those many disorders, depression tends to occur with addiction more frequently than most other disorders, sparking debate as to whether there’s some level of causality between the two. So does depression cause addiction, or vice versa? What is the relationship between these two disorders? How are depression and comorbid addiction treated?
What Is Depression?
The spectrum of human emotion is broad and diverse. Over the course of any given day, a person can feel many distinct and even conflicting emotions: Happiness and elation, sadness, anger and aggression, confusion, fear, jealousy. Each of these emotions — not to mention the countless others — are natural, healthy, and unavoidable at turns. Generally, a person’s emotional state is an involuntary, reflexive psychological response to a situation, thought, or some other type of stimulus. However, at a certain point, emotions can become overwhelming and potentially dangerous. When exaggerated, a person’s emotional state could even be part of a certain pathology.
Depression is one of many human emotions that we experience regularly. While the implication is clinical, many people experience depression somewhat frequently as it’s a natural response to certain situations. By definition, depression is characterized as a low mood and an aversion to most activities. When a person is feeling depressed, the emotion affects his or her thoughts, behavior, energy level, interests, and sense of well-being. But it’s important to realize that depression isn’t necessarily a clinical diagnosis. In fact, there’s a difference between standard, “normal” depression and clinical depression.
Clinical Depression vs. “Normal” Depression
As mentioned above, “normal” depression is the low state that people experience regularly. It’s natural, healthy, and it’s not usually cause for concern or clinical intervention. However, clinical depression refers to an emotional disorder that’s known by the more official name of major depression.
Major depression — also commonly called major depressive disorder — is an emotional disorder that’s characterized by at least two weeks of a low emotional state, which is present across most situations and scenarios. Besides the length of time the bouts of depression last, major depression differs from standard day-to-day depression in that people who are experiencing major depression tend to also have low self-esteem, experience a loss of self-interest, and might even experience physical pain without any obvious or apparent cause. In the most extreme cases of major depression, the individual might even begin to see or hear things that others cannot see or hear.
The experience of severe depressions as part of a diagnosis of major depression has been connected with a number of specific signs and symptoms. Beyond feeling a generally low mood and pronounced sadness, individuals who suffer from clinical depression often have difficulty thinking and concentrating. Oftentimes, their thoughts don’t reach fully-formed status and can be interrupted by feelings of foreboding sadness. Additionally, major depression often comes with feelings of intense fatigue and low energy, making it difficult for individuals to have the energy to do even basic daily activities or self-care.
To others, an individual who suffers from depression can seem to be quite distant and detached, often even seeming uninterested by things they previously found enjoyable like hobbies and pastimes. In some cases, severe depression can manifest symptoms of irritability and possibly even aggression, which compounds the antisocial nature that coincides with depression.
Depression & Addiction
There are a wide variety of different causes of addiction. For example, one of the most common sources of addiction has been when substance abuse occurs in the family unit; youths who are exposed to substance abuse have statistically been found to be more likely to develop addictions when they reach adulthood than those who don’t come from families in which there’s substance abuse. Similarly, there can be mental and emotional catalysts for addiction. As research has shown, there are high numbers of individuals who suffer from both addiction and a secondary, co-occurring mental or emotional disorder, including depression. But is there a correlation or relationship?
In recent years, a growing body of research has highlighted the fact that addiction shares a number of symptoms and effects with certain other mental and emotional disorders. A prime example is depression: Depending on the substance, people who suffer from addiction can exhibit extended periods of low mood and energy level that appears to be quite similar to a bout of depression.
As it turns out, depression and addiction similarly affect a number of the same regions of the brain. In particular, people who suffer from depression tend to have low levels of neurochemicals and hormones that are associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure; meanwhile, many mind-altering addictive substances alter these same neurochemicals and hormones, which serves to either provoke synthetic happiness or hinders naturally-occurring happiness. In either case, both depression and addiction are disorders that have some level of affect on neurochemical balance.
Does One Cause The Other?
Perhaps the more pressing question is whether depression causes addiction, or vice versa. As it happens, neither can be considered a definitive, direct cause of the other; however, it’s quite possible that when a person who suffers from depression develops an addiction, his or her depression was certainly a catalyst.
When a person suffers from untreated depression, he or she might reach the point of becoming so desperate for relief from the mental and emotional symptoms of the disorder that the individual turns to “self-medicating” with alcohol and drugs. In other words, the presence of depression inadvertently leads the individual to use substance abuse as a means of alleviating the effects of the depression. As such, while it’s inaccurate to say that depression causes addiction, it’s true that a person’s untreated depression and the specific symptoms of depression could potentially result in the individual turning to substance abuse for relief, eventually developing an addiction.
Choose Just Believe Recovery in Carbondale for Your Recovery Needs
Fortunately, dual-diagnosis treatment is available to help those suffering from depression and comorbid addiction. Whether you’re looking into dual-diagnosis treatment for yourself or a loved one, Just Believe Recovery in Carbondale, PA, offers high-quality, comprehensive substance abuse support for those in need.