According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people. Symptoms of depression may include depressed mood, irritability, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, sleep disturbance, sudden changes in weight, physical aches, slow movements, fatigue, poor concentration, or thoughts of suicide or death. You have to have several of these symptoms for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.
Depression is also a major risk factor for developing a substance use disorder. One study found that among people with lifetime major depression, 16.5 percent developed an alcohol use disorder and 18 percent developed a drug use disorder. That’s about twice the rate of addiction in the general population. The relationship between substance use and depression is complex but people often rely on drugs and alcohol to cope with depressive symptoms. Treating depression, then, is not only necessary for improving your quality of life but it can also help you avoid or overcome addiction. The following are common risk factors for depression.
As with most physical and mental health issues, genes play a part in depression risk. Studies of identical twins and fraternal twins indicate that that gene is responsible for about half of your addiction risk. Studies of people who have been adopted and raised by parents without depression also suggest that genes increase your risk of depression. The lifetime risk of depression is around 10 percent but for people with a parent or sibling who has had major depression, their risk increases to about 20 or 30 percent. If that parent or sibling has the less common recurrent depression, then your risk increases to about 40 or 50 percent.
Depression is a complex condition and it appears that it may actually be the case that several paths lead to similar symptoms. Therefore, there isn’t a single depression gene but rather several different combinations of gene variations that might make you prone to developing depression under the right circumstances.
Women are about twice as likely as men to develop depression. Experts believe that depression is underreported in men because men are less likely to recognize the symptoms of depression and less likely to seek help than women, but even taking this into account, the disparity remains large. There are several reasons for this. One is biological. Women typically have to endure more drastic hormonal changes than men, especially during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause and these have been shown to affect mood. Not only do pregnancy and childbirth cause massive hormonal changes but the sleep deprivation, stress, and erratic schedule of caring for a newborn–which falls most heavily on the mother–are major risk factors for depression as well. In addition to biological factors, women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, which are also significant risk factors for developing depression.
Studies show that people who were abused as children and people who are abused as adults are at greater risk for developing depression at any time throughout life, and in fact, their abusers may be at greater risk as well. There are a number of reasons abuse leads to depression. A big one is that a victim of abuse develops a sense of learned helplessness, a deep belief that nothing they can do will reduce their suffering. Learned helplessness is a common characteristic of depression. Victims may also internalize the explicit or implicit messages of their abusers, such as being worthless, stupid, or causing their own abuse. This can lead to low self-worth and a feeling of hopelessness that can last for decades if not treated.
Trauma can often lead to an episode of major depression. Ongoing abuse, discussed above, is one form of trauma that can lead to depression. Others might include the death of a loved one and the ensuing grief, a serious accident, a natural disaster, or being the victim of an assault or burglary. These can make you feel powerless and unsafe and may spiral into depression. It’s also important to be aware that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is sometimes mistaken for depression. PTSD typically includes symptoms like disturbed sleep, irritability, low mood, and negative thinking about others and the world in general, all of which look a lot like depression. However, depression and PTSD are treated differently so it’s important to be aware of the difference.
Major life stress can precipitate an episode of major depression. Grief over the death of a loved one, especially a spouse, losing your job, getting divorced, or being diagnosed with a serious illness are all common causes of depressive episodes. For example, one study found that among people who are unemployed, about 12 percent were depressed at two weeks of unemployment but after a year, that number climbed to 19 percent. Events like job loss and divorce are particularly bad because they cause people to doubt their self-worth, their sense of purpose, and hope for the future.
As noted above, there is a large overlap between substance use and depression, and the relationship between the two is complex. Often, a substance use disorder begins as self-medicating depression symptoms with drugs and alcohol. These may help in the short term, but in the long term, they only make symptoms worse. Drugs and alcohol temporarily mask the symptoms but the brain chemistry compensates. For instance, opioids can relieve emotional pain but continued use actually makes the brain more sensitive to pain. And alcohol can actually cause depressive symptoms, which persist as long as someone keeps drinking. What’s more, substance use can lead to negative consequences like job loss, divorce, legal trouble, and health problems, all of which are risk factors for depression.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 800.910.9299.