Depression and Addiction: The Vicious Cycle

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When you have a loved one who struggles with addiction and a mood disorder like depression, it can be difficult to separate and understand all of the different factors at play. You may get frustrated and think, “of course you’re depressed! You’re making your life more difficult with alcohol and drugs!” But, depression and addiction are often deeply linked and it is necessary to take on both of them together to see a full and lasting recovery.

What Is a Mood Disorder?

Your loved one who is sad all the time isn’t just moping. They may suffer from an affective disorder, which is also known as a mood disorder. Mood disorders fall into three major categories: anxiety, bipolar and depression.

Depression doesn’t refer to people who are feeling sad for a day or two. It is an oppressive and painful condition that causes negative feelings for weeks, months and years on end. Symptoms include:

  • prolonged sadness
  • lethargy and lack of energy
  • lack of enthusiasm for daily activities
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feelings of guilt
  • irritability
  • aches and pains that have no physical explanation
  • major changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • and even suicidal thoughts

People who suffer from major depression may suffer job loss or problems in school because they are unable to concentrate or can’t summon the energy to perform.

They may isolate themselves from friends and family. People with major depression can’t just snap out of it. A sheer effort will not help them break free. Treatment is necessary to see a lasting improvement.

Outmoded Thinking

In the past, many addiction recovery programs would insist that a patient achieve sobriety before they would begin to address mental health issues. The feeling was that depression associated with drug use was situational and would be ameliorated through treatment for the drug dependency. After all, if you can treat two problems with a single solution, that’s just efficient, right?

The truth is, mood disorders are not that simple. In some longitudinal studies, drug abuse was associated with later depression, but early depression did not predict later drug abuse. In other situations, drug use and depressive symptoms fed one another.

A person who is experiencing depression will attempt to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol. Excessive use will have fallout in their personal lives such as broken relationships, job loss and failures in school. In return, this increases situational depression that exists on top of the pre-existing mood disorder.

Treating the Whole Person

While the argument over whether affective disorders cause drug abuse or the other way around rages on, it’s also largely irrelevant. When someone is suffering from co-occurring disorders, the best path is to treat each one as if it is a cause. Each psychiatric disorder should be treated concurrently with abuse and addiction.

By addressing each issue separately, the individual who struggles with mood disorders and addiction can be truly treated as a whole person. The coping skills learned can be applied to multiple areas of your loved one’s life and help him or her find a more complete and lasting healing.


  1. Taite, Richard Psychology Today “What Comes First, Depression or Addiction?” March 18, 2014
  2. Ellis, Mary Ellen Healthline “Affective Disorders (Mood Disorders) May 30, 2013
  3. Sacks, David Psychology Today “Tough Truths You Should Know About Addiction, Depression” August 14, 2014

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