The Connection Between Substance Abuse And Depression
The substance that a drug abuser or addict ingests “fixes” something within that person. When a drug is taken for the first time, it propels the user in a welcome direction. The rest of that person’s active addiction is spent subconsciously attempting to duplicate the euphoria and feeling of well-being that was experienced from that first drug use.
Unfortunately, substance abuse and addiction create a destructive, unnatural chemical imbalance in the brain that eventually leads to mental and emotional problems. The most common disorder that ensues from this imbalance is depression.
Imbalanced Brain Chemicals
If a person is addicted to stimulants, such as methamphetamine, amphetamines, or cocaine, his or her brain releases a surge of the brain chemical dopamine. (This is where the slang word for drugs, “dope,” comes from.) Dopamine is what gives a person a feeling of well-being.
Another substance that causes the brain to release dopamine (but in lesser amounts than stimulants) is chocolate. Many people have reported that chocolate makes them feel “happy.” It is not just the taste of chocolate that makes them feel pleasure. It is primarily the dopamine.
The overuse of any drug can bring on depression when that drug is no longer being ingested. Though the chemical mechanisms in the brain may be different depending upon the drug ingested, the resulting melancholy is the same.
People who have depression often experience an inability to feel pleasure. The technical term for this phenomenon is “anhedonia.” Nearly all recovering addicts go through a period where they are unable to feel pleasure from activities that previously made them happy. The anhedonia associated with addiction is temporary. It can take up to 18 months for brain chemicals to return to normal for people suffering from anhedonia.
Addicts in recovery do things during active addiction that they normally would never do and where their behavior is in conflict with their morals.
For instance, a person who is addicted to tranquilizers may exhibit drug-seeking behaviors, such as making appointments with multiple physicians in order to get drugs. There is no national registry for keeping track of addicts engaged in “doctor shopping.” As a result, it is not uncommon for multiple doctors to write the prescriptions in good faith, unsuspecting of any malfeasance. Then, the drug addict will have the prescriptions filled by several different pharmacies.
Many functioning addicts will not set off any obvious “red flags” that might alert their medical providers that anything is amiss. But something is amiss, and the addict knows it. This conflict between morals and behavior contributes greatly to the onset of depression arising out of drug dependence.
Help For Depression
People recovering from substance abuse and full-blown addiction can be greatly helped through periods of emotional darkness with cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotropic medications, and regular exercise.
Cognitive behavioral therapy trains newly-recovering addicts to frame their thinking in more positive, solution-based mindsets. It equipped addicts with the tools they need to address challenging situations in a positive and productive way.
Antidepressants help to normalize the brain chemicals (or neurotransmitters) of recovering addicts. Often, only a short course of antidepressants is necessary. Once the neurotransmitters return to a normal balance, the person in recovery experiences pleasure in a normal way.
Exercise also helps to ameliorate feelings of sadness. It stimulates the production of endorphins which are natural brain chemicals that cause the feeling of overall well-being. Dopamine is also released during exercise. This is where the term “runner’s high” comes from.
Most addicts in recovery are considered to be “dual-diagnosis” patients because they suffer from depression and addiction or co-occurring disorders. These should be dealt with simultaneously in treatment because one will not improve unless both conditions are addressed at the same time.
When looking for a treatment program, facilities that offer “integrated” treatment are those that specialize in treating people with co-occurring disorders, i.e., addiction and depression concurrently. Integrated treatment has the highest recovery rate and the lowest rate of relapse back into substance addiction and depression.
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