Canadian, OK 07/22/2009 -Depression is another factor that keeps an addict harnessed in his addiction. Depression is the source of a constant and significant amount of discomfort that prompts continued use. It is also the second major barrier to successful recovery for those seeking help through treatment.
Some of the traditional medical- and psychiatric-based programs rotely diagnose and treat the depression an addict is experiencing as the root cause of the person’s drug or alcohol problem. In actual fact, more times than not, it is a symptom of the problem that manifested itself after the person had become addicted, not before. Oftentimes, in the course of treatment, psychotropic medications are used which temporarily mask the symptom but does nothing to cure it. As these medications wear off, the depression returns, oftentimes magnified. This makes the recovery process much more difficult, if not nearly impossible, for the addict in treatment.
There are physical and mental mechanics at play that create the state of depression and lethargy an addicted person experiences. At a physical level, most addicts are in a declining or poor state of health. When they are high they are in a euphoric, painless state of mind and are numb to the damage drugs and/or alcohol are causing to their body. When they are sober they have no energy and minor aches and pains are intensified. They are physically spent as a result of the severe nutritional deficiencies that follow long-term drug or alcohol abuse. It is these deficiencies that accelerate poor health and put the person in a physically lethargic condition.
At a mental level, they have a difficult time finding joy or happiness in anything while they are not under the influence. An addict at some point surrenders to the idea that they must be high in order to experience anything at an emotional level. They must be high to celebrate an accomplishment, to escape sadness. They must be high to solve problems, to enjoy sex, to have meaningful relationships, to work or to play. The addict really believes and operates on this principle, numb to the actual fact that the quality of their life and relationships with others are on a downtrending spiral.
To give a layman’s explanation of how and why this barrier of depression exists, let’s look at what is happening to a person’s mind and body as the addiction develops. There is another biophysical aspect to this scenario which is created by the drug’s interaction with the body’s natural chemistry. Some of the body’s natural chemicals act as a built-in reward system that encourages us to eat, exercise and procreate. Other natural chemicals act as painkillers that activate when we physically injure ourselves or are experiencing pain. These natural chemicals are directly related to our drive to maintain our physical well-being in one way or another.
In addition to the presence of drug metabolites in the system and the memories associated with drug and alcohol use as described in Part II of this editorial series, the physical brain of the addicted person also identifies the drug or alcohol as an aid that either enhances or restricts the release of these natural chemicals. In some cases the brain identifies some drugs as superior to the body’s natural chemicals. The brain then substitutes the drugs or alcohol for the body’s natural chemicals. As the person starts to use drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, the body becomes depleted of key nutrients and amino acids. (Amino acids are the building blocks for the body’s natural chemicals.) These nutritional deficiencies prevent the body from receiving the nutritional energy necessary to produce and release the natural chemicals.
In short, the drugs take over the functions of the body’s natural chemicals and the person’s brain and body get fooled into thinking that the drugs or alcohol are the natural chemicals. When drugs or alcohol are present in the addict’s system, the physical perception is that the body chemistry is working and all is well. When the drugs or alcohol leave the addict’s system, the brain and body perceive a deficit of the natural body chemicals which adds to the lethargy and lack of enjoyment an addict experiences when not under the influence of drugs or drink. This condition is what adds to the addict’s compulsion and drive to do more drugs or drink more alcohol, despite the often life-threatening consequences an addict is faced with on a day-to-day basis. The drug or alcohol gets misidentified as an aid to the production and release of the natural chemicals when, in fact, it is suppressing the body’s ability to manufacture them.
One final piece of the depression puzzle is what is actually happening in the addicts’ lives. There are broken relationships, sometimes problems with the law or financial problems. Addicts start to distance themselves from the people they love and becomes more and more withdrawn. They may lose their jobs or start experiencing serious health problems. Basically their lives are going down the toilet and the addicts deep down are not happy about it. They are depressed about these circumstances that for the most part are present because of their addictive lifestyles. Depression is an appropriate emotion considering the misery that they are faced with in their lives.
For some medical practitioners in the treatment field to address this depression as a “mental illness or disease” and expect that prescribed medications will somehow fix the person so they can fix these situations in their life seems somewhat irrational if you think about it. It is a fact that these prescribed medications will mask the depression temporarily, but so will their drug of choice. Neither one helps the person restore their physical health or helps them develop the life skills to repair these real life problems, which is the only real cure for this affliction.