Men and women in recovery are often surprised to learn that they were using drugs or alcohol to manage a condition they didn’t know they had. At first, it’s reassuring when addicts find out that there is a disease called alcoholism that helps to explain their self-destructive behavior. However, when they also discover that beneath the alcoholism there is depression or bipolar disorder or anxiety, it can be difficult to bear. It might be startling at first.
Yet, for many having a deeper understanding of the internal landscape is helpful. For example, understanding how alcoholism was masking a psychological illness and how treating both of them can lead to solutions is also enlightening! A large percentage of those who develop addictions experience depression before, during, and after an addiction.
Depression is a psychological condition that many people experience. It tends to have a stigma in our society, and for that reason, it’s rarely discussed. Yet, many individuals have depression that is easily disguised because it’s such a familiar experience to their life.
The word depression has Latin roots that mean “pressed down.” It is as though the energy of the mind and heart has been pushed inward instead of expressed and leaves an individual feeling “down”, despondent, or low. One symptom that is common with depression, among adults is the loss of an ability to enjoy things. An individual might lose interest in sports, favorite classes, friends, and socializing. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling down
- Loss of interest in activities
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Slow thinking
- Loss of motivation
- Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
- Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
When symptoms of depression are present, even though someone may not have the cognitive awareness that they are depressed, an individual might begin to drink or use drugs in order to feel better. Getting high or drunk, of course, helps lift mood and bury uncomfortable feelings. In this way, the need to drink can continue to grow and the cycle of addiction can strengthen.
However, if depression is not treated and the alcohol or drug use continues, it can lead to a condition called co-morbidity. It makes achieving sober living a bit more difficult in that both conditions (alcoholism and depression) must be treated. Each illness has a significant affect on the other and the severity of the alcoholism is usually an indication of the severity of the depression. And the reverse is also true.
The sober help that an addict acquires needs to address both the depression as well as the addiction. Sadly, there are many treatment facilities that do not fully address both conditions, making long-term sober living difficult to sustain – an individual might experience chronic relapse because his or her underlying condition hasn’t been resolved.
In other cases, men and women don’t experience depression before or during their addiction, but depression arises instead after they’ve stopped the addiction. For many, the repressed emotions were held down for so long by the addiction, and now, the sobriety is finally allowing the full experience of those feelings. Adding to this are the challenges that a newly recovered addict frequently faces at the start of their sober life. Frequently, he or she is faced with difficult life conditions such as housing, employment, few friends, etc. These challenging circumstances can bring on an experience of depression.
Although depression is difficult to go through, like addiction, it is treatable! No matter what stage of addiction the condition of depression arises (before, during, or after), it can be managed with psychotherapy and medication. You should know that sober living is not depressed living; it is living with happiness, meaning, and gratitude for one’s life.
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