The co-occurrence of depression and addiction is not unusual. Many people experience both illnesses at the same time because they feed on each other. If you are prone to depression, for instance, you might feel compelled to drink or get high in an attempt to feel better or to hide from your depressive moods. If you turned to alcohol and drugs early in life, your substance abuse may have triggered depression or made the symptoms worse. But what if your depression is an addiction in itself? Is this possible and, if so, how can you get help?
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is a disease of the brain and most often refers to the physical dependence on a chemical substance such as alcohol, nicotine or heroin. However, there are other types of addiction that are less straightforward. For instance, people become addicted to behaviors and activities such as gambling or shopping. These are different forms of the disease, but there are commonalities. The addict feels cravings for the substance or behavior. She experiences withdrawal when she can’t get it. She feels out of control when using. She uses the substance or behavior to hide from or escape negative emotions.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health condition that is characterized by extreme negative thoughts and moods. It goes beyond the usual case of the blues, which passes quickly for most of us. It can be triggered by a traumatic or upsetting event, but it may come on with no warning or explanation. Symptoms of depression include sad, hopeless feelings, lack of energy, apathy, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty thinking and concentrating and even suicidal thoughts.
Is Depression Addictive?
Some addiction experts would say that any behavior, activity, substance or mood has the potential to be addictive. It all comes down to the individual. But can you really be addicted to your depression? Some would say yes. When you live with depression for years, you can become dependent on the familiarity of the mood. The negative patterns of thought associated with depression can become like an unhealthy coping mechanism, much like drugs and alcohol are for addicts. The negative thoughts and moods associated with bouts of depression may start to feel like a false sense of security.
Whether this constitutes an addiction is debatable, but what is obvious is that it is unhealthy and dangerous to get comfortable or dependent on a depressive mood. It can mean that a person gets stuck in the negative thought patterns and finds it more and more difficult to change. It may seem insensitive to suggest that some people with depression are addicted to it, that they choose to stay gloomy and unhappy, but they may not be aware of it. Some people stuck in the revolving door of depression may not realize what is happening. They may not be aware that they are using their moods like a crutch and a coping mechanism. Self-awareness is critical in healing from depression, addiction or both.
Whether a mood like depression can be addictive is a debate for the experts. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression and finding it difficult to extricate from habits associated with the condition, there may be more at work. The good news is that depression is treatable, and if you feel like addiction may be playing a role, be sure to make this clear to your health professionals. They can guide you and help you learn to get better.