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The link between dealing with depression and addiction

It’s difficult to find an example of someone who speaks candidly about their experience of alcohol or drug misuse and does not cite a form of mental ill health as being a part of what led to their problems.

Anxiety and depression are very common contributing factors to alcohol and drug abuse as people seek solace and escape from their demons.

Denise Welch, Tony Slattery and Simon Pegg are just three high profile people who have battled alcoholism and link their struggles with drinking to depression.

Alcohol is something many people find themselves turning to as they struggle to lift dark moods, escape and seek comfort. Sadly, it’s a flawed coping mechanism.

What is depression?

Whilst depression is a very familiar term, many of us do not have a full understanding of what it really is.

Depression is not one specific thing that affects everyone it attacks in a set way. It may not even always affect the same person in the same way every time it hits.

Depression can be mild, moderate or severe and any episode of it may include moments of each or any of those. It is low mood that lasts a long time and has a detrimental impact on everyday life.

It can be debilitating, triggered by a specific event or season – such as in the case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – prenatal and postnatal and can seemingly inexplicable, lifelong or come as a one-off wave.

Some people lash out as a result of their depression, many isolate themselves and do not want to see or talk to others and it is also common for people suffering to find themselves unable to relax.

Depression makes every day activities harder and feel less valuable and meaningful. It leads people to grasp for ways of feeling better and as a result is very often an underlying factor for people who become alcohol or drug dependent. 

It can be an illness of its own or a symptom of another mental health problem such as bipolar or a personality disorder. 

Coping with depression 

Trying to cope with depression presents many challenges. It’s a silent illness that eats at people from the inside and can be impossible for others to spot.

Many people with depression are extremely skilled at hiding and masking the problem, making it difficult for others to realise the struggles they face.

Alcohol and substances frequently become a coping mechanism for people trying to escape their feelings. 

Depression can lead people to:

  • self harm or have suicidal thoughts
  • avoid socialising or engaging in activities they usually enjoy
  • eat very little or comfort eat
  • have difficulty thinking clearly or to make decisions
  • feel hopeless, frustrated or despairing
  • have a sense of unreality
  • be very negative about themselves and life
  • smoke more, drink more or take more drugs.

Alcohol and depression

Alcohol and substances often become part of a vicious circle for people with depression. It is very common for people who are feeling depressed to reach for alcohol in a bid to lift their mood.

Drinking more, smoking more and taking more drugs are all common symptoms of people who are dealing with depression. Some people find they don’t want to eat, but others will overeat.

It’s an illness that causes you to reach for comfort and, in the case of alcohol and drugs, a way to feel better or seem ok to others.

Unfortunately, the comedown from alcohol and drugs often makes depression worse and replicates the symptoms of it. The physical sensations of hangovers – and the remorse and guilt that often go hand-in-hand with them – can make things seem even more bleak.

People who are alcohol or drug dependent often fear trying to live without substances as a survival crutch, which is why, as part of recovery, it is so vital to unpick the things that led to addiction and find new coping mechanisms. 

Author and journalist Bryony Gordon has spoken powerfully of the battle of facing the depression and issues she’d ‘been hiding under the alcohol for two years’ in her first year of recovery and sobriety. A new passion for running helped her find wellbeing.

Depression and Alcoholism

Causes of depression

Childhood trauma, grief, a difficult life event, physical health problems, pain and poor sleep may all be contributing factors to depression. Alcohol or drug misuse may also have deepened or can cause depression. Poor diet and not enough exercise may also contribute to this.

Treatment for depression

Antidepressant medication helps many people by lifting some of the fog of depression and allowing them to find a way forward.

Whilst that is sufficient for some people, medication does not solve the underlying issues that may have led to depression. Many people need help to work through what that may have been. 

Finding effective treatments and coping mechanisms to deal with your depression is vital to keep you well and prevent a relapse into drinking or drug taking when that has become an issue.

There are many self help resources available and these can be recommended by an empathetic GP, but these are not for everyone. There are computer programmes, books and apps that may help, but it is important to know that other help is out there if these do not prove sufficient or if you feel you want more support.

Various talking therapies either in group or one-to-one scenarios are successful for many people. Others prefer more somatic techniques that allow them to engage in healing and positive activities and release trauma, without having to relive it. These may include things such as art, equine or pet therapies, yoga, meditation and the like. 

Medication is extremely effective for many people, but is not necessarily a ‘cure’ in itself. Combined with other types of therapy it can be enough to allow a person to find the motivation and will to undertake other techniques to help them find wellbeing.

All good drug and alcohol rehab centres will ensure that as well as helping someone to stop abusing substances they also work through and consider any underlying factors such as depression. Rehab is an opportunity to get the intense support and time out needed to face these really challenging issues and ensure the future is more positive than the past has been.

Call today for free & confidential advice on 08000029010 (International: +44 161 674 9049)

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About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is our admissions team leader. Over the last 5 years he has spoken with more than 10,000 people via our helpline and has organised over 1,000 detox and rehabilitation placements.

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