Dealing with depression in addiction recovery
Depression is unfortunately common in addiction recovery. It’s common in general, with an estimated 300 million people globally suffering from it. This makes depression the world’s leading cause of disability.
Depression can really diminish your wellbeing and sense of self. It can make you feel hollow and listless; it can make you feel as there is no point to life; you might begin to suffer from insomnia, lethargy, or simply shut down. It can cause severe cognitive problems. In addition, on a physical level, it is associated with weight fluctuations, fatigue, and diminished immune health.
At its worst, depression can kill. It can do so indirectly, by causing sufferers to adopt unhealthy or risky lifestyle practices. It can do so directly, by causing sufferers to take their own lives.
You will likely be more susceptible to depression during addiction and in recovery. Depression often goes hand in hand with substance abuse. Many of us turn to self-medicating techniques to deal with it in the first place. Alternatively, many of us become depressed whilst taking substances. We can therefore fall into a vicious cycle, in which depression and substance abuse are both leading to one another.
Depression can get worse as we go through recovery and detox. You will be dealing with your emotions and the world around you without being able to lean on drink or drugs. It may be the first time you’ve had to do so for years. You are also having the crutch of addiction taken away from you.
As a result, depression is quite common through addiction recovery. This can last for days, weeks, years, or even indefinitely.
Luckily, there are ways to cope with depression. You can learn to manage the symptoms, or even get rid of them entirely.
Symptoms of depression in addiction recovery
Often, the hardest thing about dealing with depression is recognising it in the first place. Human beings are chronic for noticing when depression strikes. To better deal with it, we need to know what to look for.
There is no single set of symptoms that everyone suffering from depression exhibits. Symptoms of depression are as complex and wide ranging as we are. Everyone will feel it slightly differently, and everyone will suffer from different combinations of common symptoms.
This being said, there are some ‘usual suspects’ we can look for – common symptoms, one or more of which you may find yourself struggling with.
Psychological symptoms of depression in addiction recovery
Many of the symptoms are psychological. I would argue that the worst symptoms are psychological, though this is of course very much up for debate.
Common psychological symptoms of depression include:
- A low mood and persistent sadness. This can come or go, though likely you will always be at a slightly low ebb. You may also find yourself growing tearful without knowing why.
- Low self-esteem and self-worth. This is particularly acute for those going through addiction recovery. Circumstances may already have you feeling like a failure, like you’ve missed out on life, that you have no hope of living your best life.
- Feelings of helplessness. This can be particularly horrible. You lose all hope that anything can ever get better.
- Feelings of guilt. Again, this can be particularly bad for those going through recovery, as you may already feel guilt for putting yourself and those around you through some rough patches. Depression can make this a lot worse.
- Irritability and intolerance. You may find it hard to cope with others around you. In addition, you may find yourself growing irrationally critical of others. You may need to constantly fight the urge to lash out.
- A lack of enjoyment and motivation. This is crucial to your ongoing wellbeing. It is crucial for you to get everything you should out of life. When we are depressed, we can lose all motivation for anything. We can lose the ability to take pleasure or joy in anything.
- Anxiety. This can be bad for anyone suffering with depression. It can mix with the psychological fallout of going through addiction recovery. This can then make things much worse.
- Having thoughts of suicide or self-harm. You can lash out at yourself, hurting yourself. You can also feel a need to end things and seriously consider suicide.
Physical symptoms of depression in addiction recovery
We tend to think of depression as being a psychological concern, which it is, as it is a form of mental illness. There are also plenty of physical symptoms that go with it. As with psychological symptoms, you likely won’t suffer from all of them (though you might – many people do.)
However, if you are depressed, you may find yourself suffering with one, some, or many of the following:
Physical symptoms of depression include:
- Changes in appetite and weight fluctuations. You may find your appetite disappearing, leading to weight loss. Alternatively, you may find yourself comfort eating, leading to weight gain. Weight gain can also be made worse by listlessness and a lack of motivation, as you stop living a full, active life.
- Constipation. This can be caused by any number of things – a change in diet, as above, or a symptom of stress, for example.
- Moving and speaking slowly. Your body and mind may feel like it is shutting down. With this, you may find yourself thinking, moving and speaking more slowly than normal.
- Unexplained pains. Aches and pains may spring up with no seemingly rational cause.
- Low libido. This goes hand in hand with low energy and a lack of motivation. However, the symptoms can be physical, including erectile dysfunction and so on. Your libido and sexual sensitivity can also be impacted by common depression medications.
- Menstrual cycle disruption. Depression can cause hormonal imbalances that can interrupt, change, or even halt your menstrual cycle.
- Insomnia and disturbed sleep. You may find it hard to get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up and get going in the morning.
Social symptoms of depression in addiction recovery
Addiction recovery will generally represent quite an upheaval to your lifestyle and social circle. Everything will feel like it’s been turned upside down. Depression can contribute to this, making it worse.
There are several social symptoms of depression that you should watch out for. These include:
- Isolating yourself. This will often be deliberate. You might find yourself avoiding friends and family, shunning social situations, and keeping to yourself.
- Avoiding your interests and hobbies. We all have the things we enjoy, the things that make us who we are and that make life worth living. However, if you suffer from depression, you may neglect these things.
- Struggling with relationships. It can be hard to communicate and interact with people when you are depressed. This can include your friends and family. It can also include your colleagues and clients, impacting on your career.
Causes of depression in addiction recovery
There are a few factors that may lead to depression in addiction recovery, above and beyond the usual causes that many of us may experience. Typically, depression can represent something missing in your recovery programme. Speak to your recovery adviser, sponsor and healthcare provider – they will be able to help you close the gap, identify the cause and formulate a plan.
Depression can be triggered by events, too. This could be as simple you beginning the road to addiction recovery, quitting whatever you need to quit. It can be a road bump along the way. It can be anything that sets you back.
You will likely be facing some unresolved trauma as you go through recovery. This can be a common cause of depression – facing up to past events that may be troubling, upsetting, or, indeed, traumatic.
Finally, depression can often be a sign of chemical imbalances. This is especially the case with disorders such as bipolar (manic depression). Obviously, addiction recovery is all about chemical changes as you go through withdrawal, so depression is always a risk.
How to deal with depression
The first step in dealing with depression in addiction recovery is to consult your medical provider. They will be able to properly diagnose it and come up with a treatment plan. You should always talk to your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms we’ve gone through today that have lasted more than a few weeks.
They may prescribe you some antidepressants. However, prescription medications may not suit you if you have a history of substance misuse. Some antidepressants contain sedative medications and can be abused, so always discuss this openly with your doctor.
Either way, there are some natural, non-medicated methods for dealing with depression in addiction recovery, including a few easy lifestyle changes. These can form the bedrock of your treatment. They may also simply supplement medication. Either way, they are very worthwhile practising.
Everyday practices for depression
Work to a daily routine
Depression can completely undo your life. It can make it hard to keep to any kind of set pattern or routine. You may struggle to get basic tasks done because of it. At the same time, a lack of timetable, of set routine, can make depression much worse.
Break the cycle early on. Develop a routine. Even if it is as simple as eating at the same time every day, attending a support meeting, and going out for an evening stroll, your day will have structure. You will have something to work with. You will probably find your sense of purpose returning, alongside an increase in cognitive function.
Eat to be happy
This doesn’t mean ‘eat what makes you happy’. If it did, we would all eat burgers and chocolate and be happily depression free. Rather, you should structure your diet to combat the depression that might hit you in addiction recovery.
Proper nutrition can make you happy as well as healthy.
Try to cut out unnecessary sugar and caffeine. These can lead to energy crashes, which you should avoid when struggling with depression. They can also increase levels of anxiety and inhibit your brain’s ability to cope with stress.
Vitamins and minerals are your friends. With this in mind, eat a broad variety of fruit and vegetables, protein sources, and cereals. Consider supplementing. In particular, foods and supplements rich in zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and folic acid are effective at treating depression.
Drink plenty, too. This will keep you healthy and energised, which you will need to be.
Be more active
I’m not telling you to go out and run a marathon. You simply need to start moving a little bit more. This can be a good gym routine or regular fitness class. It could be a team sport. Alternatively, it could simply be a daily stroll around your local park.
Physical activity causes our brains to produce endorphins. These are chemicals that reduce stress, relieve pain, and improve mood. They will make you happier and more relaxed. They may also help you to sleep better.
Getting out and about, seeing some sunshine, some nature, will also naturally lift your spirits.
Yoga is a good idea for those dealing with depression. The physical component will give you the benefits mentioned above. The mental practice and meditation will help you to fortify your brain against the effects of depression.
Don’t isolate yourself. If you have a close group of friends or family members, see them as much as possible. Join a community group or volunteer somewhere. Get yourself out into the world – connection with other humans will lift your mood quite profoundly.
Stay in close contact with your support groups, too. Whether this be a 12 step programme, group counselling, or even a specific group for depression, get involved and stay involved. They offer mutual support, human warmth, friendship, and a reminder that you are not alone. This is vital in overcoming depression in addiction recovery.
Look after you
Taking time out to invest in your own wellbeing is paramount for everyone. It is especially relevant for those that are prone to mental health struggles.
Whether you are currently struggling with depression or have suffered it in the past, you can never exercise too much self-care. There are many non invasive ways of managing depression. Likewise, these methods can complement more traditional treatments such as medicines and therapy.
Recoverlutions Wellbeing hub is dedicated to improving physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It includes activities such as yoga, fitness, nutrition, mindfulness, meditation and breath work. All of these things can enhance and contribute to wellbeing.
You can also use our platform to connect to like minded others, lifting the burden of suffering alone. If you’re struggling with feelings of depression, please do not suffer in silence and speak to someone.