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Can Addiction Worsen Depression?

Millions of Americans suffer from depression, an often chronic illness caused by many factors, from genetics to lifestyle choices. While some people seek out psychiatric help for their ailments, others may not have access to healthcare or are ashamed, as depression still carries a stigma in society. These barriers can lead individuals to self-medicate to soothe their increasingly unbearable symptoms, and a common method is misusing substances like drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, untreated depression can quickly spiral into addiction, creating a cycle that’s difficult to break without medical intervention for dual diagnosis.

A Temporary Fix

About one-third of people with major depression also heavily misuse substances. However, there are many different forms of depression, so those figures are likely much higher overall. Substance misuse can provide short-term relief from the hopelessness, loneliness, and other symptoms that accompany depression by flooding the brain with “feel good” chemicals. The numbness that substances provide comes at a price; however, once the effects wear off, people are often left with unshakeable anxiety and worsened depression symptoms, usually related to acute withdrawal of chemicals from the bloodstream. This often leads to people craving more of their temporary fix, creating and cycle that feeds into substance use disorder.

Downward Spiral

The depression and addiction cycle is best described as a race to the bottom. Both conditions work together to worsen a person’s mental and physical health, lowering their chances for future improvement. Because depression can cause crippling hopelessness, continued substance misuse can sometimes lead to deaths of despair. These situations are still being researched more thoroughly, but there is a correlation between those with depression who have survived an overdose once or twice and overdose deaths. Some experts suggest that these cases are sometimes deemed suicides in cases with evidence of intent or prior reports of refusing emergency services.

Getting Help

The likelihood of reaching out for help is relatively low when someone struggles with mental illness and addiction. Their brains are rewired by constant substance misuse, causing them to spend all their time and energy seeking and using their drug of choice. People at this stage often feel hopeless, and the idea of recovery seems impossible and out of reach. Many have cut contact with their loved ones due to shame or indiscretions caused by addiction. The combination of these circumstances will usually lead to a “rock bottom” scenario where a person falls into serious legal trouble or situations that entice them to seek treatment or, unfortunately, continue down the path of self-destruction and potentially even death.

There is hope for people who are grappling with depression and addiction, and help is nearby. RSONM offers effective, life-saving healthcare services for substance use disorder and related mental illness in an outpatient setting. Experienced and compassionate medical providers and nursing staff specializing in addiction care treat every patient with the dignity and kindness they deserve. The road to recovery is paved with potential; take the first step towards a better tomorrow today. Message or call a local RSONM facility to learn more or speak with an intake coordinator.


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