Written by Nigel Ford
If you have a friend or a loved one who struggles with addiction, you may have noticed that they are prone to depressive episodes. People who struggle with drug addiction often have a hard time managing their emotions, and often have a hard time dealing with conditions like depression.
On the other hand, many people actually begin using drugs to overcome or manage their depression. If someone doesn’t have access to the proper psychological or pharmaceutical assistance to help them with their mental health, many times they will turn to drugs in an effort to self-medicate.
So what’s going on here? Can drug addiction lead to depression, or are drug users with depression merely struggling with the same issues that led them to use drugs in the first place?
How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain
There’s little doubt that drugs affect the brain – this is how they produce tangible effects in the human experience. However, when one considers the fact that many people are using drugs to avoid depressive feelings, it might come as a bit of a shock to learn that drugs can actually contribute to depression.
In fact, drug addiction can lead someone to become far more depressed than they were before using the drugs in the first place.
Think of the way that the human body absorbs vitamins. If you take enough vitamins to correct a certain imbalance, then you will experience an improvement in your health, and you’ll feel better. However, if you continue to force-feed yourself vitamins in hopes that you’ll feel better and better, eventually your body will be overloaded and you’ll start to get sick.
Drugs work the same way. What might initially seem like a simple solution to mask depressive symptoms can quickly overload the brain and body, leading to serious long-term mental health problems.
Most illicit drugs are highly potent, and it only requires a tiny amount for the brain to become overworked. Long-term use of these drugs can cause massive changes in the brain, exacerbating depression in those who already struggle with it and creating serious depression in those who don’t.
One of the ways that drugs can do this is through a process known as downregulation.
Take amphetamines, for example. Methamphetamine produces its desirable, euphoric effects by overloading the brain with dopamine – a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) responsible for feelings of motivation and happiness.
However, the brain has a regulatory mechanism that prevents it from being flooded with dopamine. When it detects incredibly high levels of dopamine in the brain, it downregulates the receptors that respond to dopamine. This means that you’ll have less of them available to register the dopamine that your brain typically produces.
This means that when you stop using the drug, your brain won’t be able to register your happy chemical – dopamine. Without this chemical triggering a response in your brain, you’ll experience serious problems with apathy, depression, lethargy, and lack of motivation. These problems can take years and years to disappear.
There’s no doubt that drugs can contribute to depression, and can even cause serious depression in people who have never struggled with it. In some cases, the depression caused by drugs can be long-term and hard to reverse. If you or a loved one struggles with drug addiction seek treatment as soon as possible.