A Never Ending Cycle: Substance Abuse and Depression

A Never Ending Cycle: Substance Abuse and Depression

When I was walking through a lecture hall on my way to class, I heard a student tell their friend “I’m addicted to that TV show, I can’t stop watching it;” I didn’t think much of it until later that day I overheard another student say, “I think she’s just addicted to the attention.”  It was then that I noticed a trend.  Addiction- it’s a word that’s thrown around rather frequently, but when it’s used seriously no one really wants to talk about it.  When dealing with substance abuse, addiction can be a crippling and life shattering condition.  It’s a tremendously complicated and unforgiving sickness.  But what happens when it’s combined with an equally complicated illness?  Comorbidity between addiction and depression is very common and the two illnesses thrive off one another, creating a continuous cycle.

Substance use disorder became recognized in the DSM in 2013 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and has been a growing problem.  But what makes depression and addiction such a compatible couple?  For starters, alcohol is a depressant, which can trigger symptoms of depression.  However, many things that people find addicting- whether it is drugs or alcohol- are often also the things many people turn to when trying to cover up or improve their feelings.  But in an attempt to relieve depressive symptoms, the person is actually making their illness worse.  Depression can increase both the intensity and frequency of one’s addiction- demonstrating just how powerful the cycle is.  Take for instance someone who has lost their job due to their illegal drug habit- that adds a great financial burden and a large amount of stress on the person, possibly triggering a depressive episode.  Or maybe a person is experiencing an episode of depression and attempts to lift their mood by feeding their addiction. However, someone with clinical depression will not have a chance to get better if they continue to self- medicate with alcohol or drugs.

Another issue with depression and addiction is that neither illness affects just the victim.  Instead, family members and friends are often effected by the struggle their loved one is going through.  The stress caused by addiction can cause future problems for younger generations.  For example, a study found that children of opiate addicts and alcoholics were at a greater risk of substance abuse later in life.  It was also found that children who had mothers suffering from depression were more likely to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder (Daley n.d.).  This data only further supports the discouraging chain of events that many addicts are trapped in.

Fighting depression or addiction on its own is difficult enough- but when it’s a dual diagnosis, the challenges grow even larger.  It is incredibly painful for many individuals to watch their loved one fight the prison of their mental illness, knowing that it is a vicious and seemingly inescapable cycle.  As a society, we need to let go of the shame that surrounds addiction and depression, so our loved ones don’t feel ashamed seeking the treatment that they deserve.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC:

Daley, D. C. (n.d.). The double demons of depression and addiction. Retrieved March 6, 2016, from http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/resource/depression/

Audrey Sloma

As a psychology and sociology major, a big focus of my studies has been on mental wellbeing. However, I found that outside of the major, mental health tends to be a forgotten and suppressed topic. Through The Humanology Project, my hope is to help make the topic of mental health as open as the subject of physical health. Growing up, I watched a close relative struggle with addiction, which put a big strain on my family, and along with it, a sense of shame. Watching the stigma of mental illness continue through high school and into college with students struggling from conditions like depression has made me passionate about working with mental health. I tend to be happiest while listening to music, being active outdoors, and playing with my golden retriever puppy.

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