How Are Depression And Addiction Related?

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 01/07/2021

Almost 20 million adults in the United States have battled with addiction in their lifetime, and over 17 million have had a depressive episode. Experts are trying to determine if there is a connection between the two. While it has been found that alcohol addiction and depression are related, the facts are not clear, which comes first.

Does Depression Cause Addiction Or Vice Versa?

Some medical professionals claim that addiction can cause depression, but depression cannot cause addiction. However, many forms of depression can make a person more susceptible to using drugs or alcohol. It is called self-medication, and it is quite often found in those with mental health disorders.

Different Types Of Depression And Their Symptoms

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If you are not sure whether you have depression, take a test online. But since there are many types of depression, it is important to know the differences of each. While many of them share the same symptoms, others do not. It is a good idea to look at the most common types of depression first.

Major Depressive Disorder

Also referred to as unipolar or clinical depression, this type of depression is the most common. To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, you have to have at least five of the following symptoms for 14 or more days. The symptoms include:

  • Not being interested in previously favorite activities.
  • Feeling unreasonably sad for no obvious reason.
  • Chronic extreme lethargy no matter how much you sleep
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Missing work or school more often
  • Unable to stop negative thoughts
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Memory lapses
  • Moving slower or talking slower than usual
  • Being irritable or angry for no obvious reason
  • Suicidal ideation

Seasonal Affective Disorder Or SAD

This condition is similar to major depressive disorder, but it only happens during certain times of the year. It is most often present during the winter months when there is less sunlight than usual. Experts claim that this condition may be caused by a lack of vitamin D from not enough sunlight. The symptoms include:

  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Having negative thoughts
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Trouble making decisions and not being able to concentrate
  • Chronic lethargy no matter how much sleep you get
  • Feeling sad for no reason
  • Memory lapses
  • Feeling aggravated or irritable

Chronic Depression

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Also known as persistent depressive disorder, chronic depression is not as severe as a major depressive disorder. However, it lasts for more than two years. Even though many with this condition can continue functioning daily, other issues are compromised, like jobs and relationships. The most commonly reported signs of chronic depression are:

  • Inability to enjoy things that normally make you happy
  • Eating more or less than normal
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • The trouble with memory and making decisions
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Sleeping less or more than usual
  • Extreme exhaustion

Perinatal Depressive Disorder

This is also referred to as postpartum depression, and it affects women who have recently been pregnant or had a baby. Some experts believe it is a fluctuation of hormones, but others believe it may be caused by exhaustion or anxiety. The most common symptoms of perinatal depressive disorder are:

  • Feeling like you cannot take good enough care of your baby
  • Feelings of sadness or despair for no obvious reason
  • Melancholy moods that do not go away
  • Inability to enjoy motherhood
  • Extreme and total fatigue
  • Feeling angry or enraged
  • Worrying more than normal about the baby’s safety
  • Not being able to complete daily tasks
  • Thoughts of hurting your baby or yourself

Manic-Depressive Disorder

More commonly called bipolar disorder, this severe form of depression can be life-threatening and always calls for therapy and medication. The typical pattern of the manic-depressive disorder includes periods of mania that alternate with times of extreme depression. The most commonly recorded signs during the manic phase include:

  • Having excessive energy
  • No need for sleep (sometimes going for two days without sleep)
  • Feelings of being better than everyone else
  • Extreme happiness or euphoria
  • Having racing thoughts and speech
  • Risky and self-destructive behavior
  • Believing you can do anything you want
  • Anxiety and irritability

The depressive phase may include:

  • Not getting out of bed for several days
  • Extreme fatigue no matter how much sleep you get
  • No motivation or energy to do anything
  • Feelings of melancholy that will not go away
  • Hopelessness or feeling empty
  • Having trouble making decisions or focusing
  • No interest in any kind of activities
  • Thinking of or attempting suicide

Self-Medication And Addiction

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Substance abuse may start as a form of self-medication for depression. You may be feeling down or sad and want to feel better, so you have a drink or two that turns into several, or you take some kind of drug to improve your mood. Realizing that it initially helps your mood, you may continue to use drugs or alcohol, becoming dependent on it.

Mental Disorders And Addiction

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, one in four people with mental disorders also have a substance abuse disorder. What starts out to feel better can turn into a major addiction that makes your depression and your other troubles much worse.

Addiction Is Serious

In fact, addiction can be life-threatening no matter what kind of drug or alcohol you are using. You may just be using something once in a while to help get over the bad times, but then it turns into a habit that you cannot get rid of. And this habit is not going to improve the trouble you are already having with depression. It only makes it worse.

Tying Them Together

The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that those with depression or some other type of mood disorder are twice as likely to turn to drugs or alcohol. The problem is that experts are not sure which comes first. Is the depression leading to the addiction, or did the addiction cause the depression?

This question is almost impossible to answer because it varies from person to person. No two people are the same, and both depression and addiction can affect people in many different ways. So, it is extremely difficult for experts to figure out which problem to treat first.

Treat One To Help The Other

For most, just treating the depression can help the person get over the addiction easier. But it is not that simple. Depending on what type of drug you are addicted to, you may have to go into some detox program to get over the worst part of the withdrawals.

Certain drugs like heroin and other opioids can have serious complications when trying to quit, and you may need to be hospitalized. Some of the worst withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Intestinal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to sleep
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking uncontrollably
  • Seizures

Medications To Help Addiction Recovery

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But how can you get off drugs or alcohol while you are depressed? Many medications can help those who are having a hard time quitting. The depression can be treated with therapy during detox, but antidepressants are not usually recommended until you are free of drugs. Here are some of the most common medications:

  • Campral reduces the urge to drink and the distress of detoxing. It helps alleviate anxiety and depression and makes it a promising new drug for treating addiction to depression.
  • Naltrexone is a common drug used to help alcoholism. It will limit cravings and help treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Antabuse works by making you sick when you drink. This motivates you to not drink.
  • Gabapentin is a medication to help treat epilepsy. But it also helps with insomnia and anxiety in those who are trying to quit drinking or drugs.
  • Topiramate is effective in helping reduce cravings and anxiety of quitting drinking. It also alleviates the physical symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Methadone is the most common medication used to treat opioid use disorder. The drug reduces the cravings and will also block the effects of opioids if they are used.
  • Naltrexone is a common drug that blocks the effects of opioids, making quitting much easier. It can be used for alcoholism as well.
  • Suboxone is a medication used to help treat addiction to pain medications like oxycontin as well as heroin. It helps by knocking out the withdrawal symptoms without giving you the high.
  • Clonidine is used to treat seizures, tremors, anxiety, and other withdrawal symptoms from any type of drug or alcohol.

Keep Treating Them Both

Once the addiction is treated successfully, it is important to keep treating the depression. Just because the addiction has been tamed, this does not mean your depression is just going to go away. In fact, addiction does not totally go away, either. Those who suffer from depression or addiction are considered to be in remission, similar to those who successfully beat cancer.

The problem is that those who are susceptible to addiction are still going to be susceptible. Treating addiction does not make it go away. It is still lurking in the background, waiting for you to have a bad day at work or a fight with a loved one. That is why you have to continue to get therapy and/or take medication to help keep your addiction in the background where it belongs.

Continue Your Treatment For A Better Life

And depression is typically a lifelong disorder that should be treated forever. Even if you do not have to take medication and you feel much better, you should continue with whatever therapy you have been doing that helped. If you do not have a therapist, you can find one online. They are certified, available 24/7, and you do not even need an appointment.