Depression and Substance Abuse: A Dangerous Combination

Depression and addiction are inextricably linked. This dual diagnosis is common and studies have shown how the two mental health conditions often co-exist: the combination is a dangerous one and can provoke a downwards spiral in the person suffering. Neither disease discriminates, they can affect anyone regardless of race, age, gender or background. Material wealth and outward appearances mean little, so it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got or how successful your career may be. Mental illness is exactly that: it centres inside the mind.

Living with any kind of mental health problem is challenging at best. It’s something that affects so many, with 1 in 4 of us suffering at any time. The link between substance abuse and depression is strong, as 1 in 4 adults with a mental illness will also have a substance abuse disorder. These problems are tough enough to deal with separately, let alone learning to manage both. Research studies show that people with depression have a 10% suicide risk over their lifetime, and those with a substance abuse disorder roughly the same. But combine the two, and the risk of suicide drastically increases to 1 in 4 people. This is why early intervention and seeking professional help is so crucial, so as to stop the negative cycle getting even worse.


Despite how common depression and addiction are in society today, the shame and stigma surrounding them persists. We need to open up the conversation around mental health and understand that it is no different from a physical illness. After all, if you broke your leg you’d go to see a doctor or visit a hospital, so why should it be any less acceptable when the problem is affecting your mind? At our private drug and alcohol rehab, we enourage patients to speak openly about their mental health with our qualified substance abuse counsellors. It’s worth exploring what exactly we mean when talking about depression and addiction, as these terms are vast and sufferers can display a wide range of symptoms.

1. Depression

Everyone feels sad from time to time, it’s just a part of life. You might have had a bad day at work, fallen out with a partner or a friend, or simply woken up on the wrong side of bed. A person with good mental health will be able to recognise and accept these feelings as normal, and know that they will pass. The difference with depression, however, is that negative thoughts and feelings are recurrent, and the sadness can feel overwhelming. It has been described as a ‘black dog’, an intense low mood, a dark, frightening and debilitating condition. And one that millions of people suffer from around the world.

The following are symptoms of depression, that sufferers would exhibit some or all of, on a daily basis:

• Tearfulness
• Feeling of hopelessness
• Anxiety
• Lack of energy
• Lack of concentration
• A lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
• Irritability
• Withdrawal from society, friends and family
• Aches and pains
• Loss of appetite or increased appetite
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Thoughts of suicide or attempts at suicide

Why Providence?

2. Addiction

Addiction is a chronic mental illness, characterised by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful and negative consequences. It is a solitary, isolating and exhausting illness – not just for the addict but for all involved. Addiction is like a tornado, it takes no prisoners and can affect anyone. Much like depression, addiction is the result of a combination of factors: biological, genetic, psychological and environmental. Through our years as a residential private rehab, we are familiar with all signs of addictive behaviour. The warning signs of addiction may be difficult to spot, as secrecy and denial feature strongly with this illness. Important changes to look out for in the person suffering are listed below:

Physical signs:

• Dilated pupils
• Appetite changes
• Changes in appearance, appearing dishevelled
• Weight loss or weight gain
• Sleeping too much or not at all
• Repetitive speech patterns
• Body odour due to lack of personal hygiene
• Withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, cravings, constipation, diarrhoea, seizures and sweating

Psychological signs:

• Anxiety
• Depression
• Paranoia
• Irritability
• Defensiveness
• Denial
• Easily confused
• Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
• Rationalizing – offering excuses, justifications and alibis for their drinking and using
• Minimising – not admitting or acknowledging the full extent or scope of the problem
• Blaming others for their problems and their drinking and using behaviour

Behavioural signs:

• Problems at work or school – irregular attendance
• Financial problems – constantly needing more money
• Legal problems
• Relationship or marital problems
• Isolating and being secretive
• Lethargy
• Becoming aggressive
• Involvement in criminal activity

If you have noticed these signs in yourself or a loved one, complete our “Do I have a problem?” quiz to learn more about the symptoms of alcoholism and addiction.

Which comes first?

An interesting question to consider in relation to depression and addiction, is which comes first: is depression a contributing factor to addiction, or in fact, is it the consequence? Are you abusing substances to alleviate the depression, or are you depressed because you’re drinking and using too much? In most cases, it’s usually a bit of both, and the two feed off each other.

Depression is common amongst those battling drug or alcohol addiction, as addicts and alcoholics abuse substances as a means of self-medication. They want to numb difficult or painful feelings, and to disconnect from themselves and the world around them. In this sense, depression and their inability to cope with the way they feel is a contributing factor to their addictive behaviour. Unfortunately, drinking or taking drugs in excess will only exacerbate the problem and make negative feelings worse as a result. Whilst taking a drink or a drug might temporarily make you feel better, relaxed and at ease, these effects are short-lived, and the comedown the next day only serves to heighten feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and loneliness associated with depression.

Living with Depression and Addiction

Here at the Providence Projects alcohol and drug rehabilitation, we know how difficult it can be to live with a mental health problem like addiction or depression. It’s as if a heavy fog is covering everything, and all colour has drained from the world. Nothing means anything anymore. The idea that things will ever change seems impossible, let alone that you can be the one to facilitate that change. But you can. Remember, mental illness is treatable, and recovery from addiction is possible. It won’t be easy, and will require much bravery and honesty on your part to admit you have a problem and need help. There is a kind of comfort in familiar pain. But once you take that first, tentative step into the unknown, the world opens up to you. You start to feel excited again, at the possibility of life, the future, the things still to do and people you have yet to meet. You start to feel hope again, and hope is a powerful and wonderful thing. Hope gives you the strength to keep going, one day at a time, in the knowledge that no matter how hard things seem today, tomorrow is still yours for the taking – if you can just allow yourself the chance to enjoy it.

Addiction and depression are treatable illnesses, and with the right support and guidance you can lead a happy and fulfilling life. You don’t have to suffer on your own anymore and there is a way out: recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is suffering with depression or addiction and would like more information on how to get help, then please contact us. You can speak with one of our expert team of addiction counsellors and therapists, who are on hand to listen and offer advice, working with you to find the best solution to your problem. Learn more about our private alcohol rehab and drug treatment programmes here.

Are you struggling with addiction or know of someone who is? Want to stop abusing substances but don’t know where or how to begin? You may be reading this and feeling like there’s no way out of th...