Depression During Addiction Recovery: Need a Little Extra Help?

Depression can drag you off course. Learn how to identify when you need to ask for professional help when battling addiction here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Got the blues? Depression can sabotage your addiction recovery program. This article reviews when and how you can seek professional help for depression.



Am I Even Depressed?

Numerous factors can trigger us to get off track with sobriety. Depression is one of them. In fact, this study found that people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) were 3.7 times more likely to experience a major depressive disorder than those without it. That means people in recovery have to realize they may have certain traits that make them prone to lapse into depression.

But, are you even depressed in the first place?

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine if you’re going through a low point…and if it’s normal, or not. You can possibly bounce back from short-term depression without professional help. But sometimes intervention is necessary.

How do you know the difference?

It’s common for people in addiction recovery to feel sad for short periods, but clinical depression occurs when sadness — or other emotions like loss, frustration or worthlessness — persist for weeks at a time or even longer.Sometimes, a down mood can be so all-consuming that it’s hard for us to remember when it started or when we last felt happy.

While experiencing clinical depression, people may discover that the things they once loved no longer bring them joy. They can have major changes in their appetites or sleep habits, have frequent thoughts of suicide, and have trouble concentrating or staying motivated.How can you know if you’re clinically depressed, or not? A mood diary can help.

Mood Diaries Help Track Trends

Keeping a mood diary is an excellent way to see how what you’re feeling affects your life. One of the reasons why a mood diary could be so useful in learning whether it’s time to get extra help is that it allows you to see the time frames surrounding moods, as well as the things that may have triggered them.

If the mood diary shows that you seem to be experiencing a short-lived bout of the blues that falls short of clinical depression, you can take immediate action:

  • Confide in a friend.
  • Participate in moderate exercise.
  • Learn something new, such as cooking food or playing an instrument.

Those things can also help keep the blues away, so they’re useful as proactive measures as well as preventive techniques.

Conversely, a mood diary indicating a long stretch of depression could highlight how important it is to take the step of getting extra help from a professional. As a start, it could show just how long it has been since you have felt good about yourself.

There’s a Link Between Some Commonly Prescribed Medications and Depression

Recovering addicts know how crucial it is for them to avoid medications that could cause them to fall into harmful usage patterns. However, they may not realize that a 2018 study of U.S. adults found that some well-known prescriptions cause depression.

Getting extra help may be as straightforward as being honest with a doctor and mentioning that a depressed feeling began soon after taking a new medication. Before moving forward with that approach, though, people should perform self-assessments so they can feel relatively confident that something else isn’t causing the feeling.

If a person can assert that there are no other new factors in their life that could be causing depression, it should be easier for the doctor to establish that link, too. Seeing a doctor promptly after suspecting a connection between depressed feelings and new medication is crucial. Then, the person and their physician can determine if a different medication could resolve the downward mood plunge.

Feedback from Friends or Counselors Could Be Illuminating

People sometimes know, deep down, that they’re feeling different than usual but keep dismissing the change as something that’s not serious. When that happens, the issue could progress into clinical depression even if it began as something less severe. Frequently, though, well-meaning individuals in a person’s life will speak up and say that a person’s mood has shifted.

That could be a sign that extra help is needed. For example, counselors are instrumental in the recovery process because they encourage recovery and help patients create relapse prevention plans. They may be among the first to point out that something has changed. On the other hand, a counseling session may only occur once a week or infrequently enough where the change may not be noticeable.

That’s why the input from trustworthy friends is also worth taking into account. It may be difficult for someone to hear it at first, especially if they perceive that they are being judged or failing in their recovery efforts. However, most friends will gently persist and point out that they’re saying something because they care and want the person to get help if it’s necessary.

Recognizing Negative Thought Patterns

Everyone gets trapped in negative thought loops at least occasionally. When a person is in recovery, those negative thoughts could increase the probability of relapse. Some of the most common negative thoughts or beliefs conjured by people in recovery are that they are not capable of recovering, that others will judge them or that it is not possible to have fun without using.

When people let those negative thoughts take hold, they become anxious and could get depressed soon afterward. In some cases, people find that the negative thoughts make them feel paralyzed and unable to make progress in their recovery or other parts of life. They may become so fearful of what the negative thoughts tell them that they get fixated by expectations of catastrophes.

When negative thoughts become so dominant they regularly prevent you from sleeping, concentrating, or engaging in typical activities, that’s a sign that you need to seek help from a professional. If you can usually shut those negative thoughts down with rationalization but have difficulty being successful occasionally, a friend with a listening ear may be able to alter that perspective that could otherwise lead to depression.

Unhealthy Relationships Could Compromise Recovery in Numerous Ways

A person in recovery learns how important it is to cut ties with people who may encourage them to use, such as the individuals they spent time with at bars or those who were their drug dealers. Taking that step could be especially hard in intimate relationships that are abusive.

Perpetrators love to exert control, and they often do that by demeaning their victims. Hearing hurtful words from a partner who’s supposed to be loving is extraordinarily damaging and can wreak havoc on a person’s mental state. If someone starts to believe what an abuser says, depression could occur. That’s especially likely to happen when those individuals don’t have opposing input from people who help them see their worth.

Scientists have found that addictive substances affect genders differently and that women who experience domestic abuse are at an increased risk of using substances. It’s easy to see, then, why a history of substance abuse and the act of being in an abusive relationship could disrupt a person’s recovery and cause strong, negative emotions that could spiral into depression.

Even if a relationship is not abusive, it’s still important for people — especially those in recovery — to monitor how they feel after being around certain friends or family members. If it seems some individuals make them question their self-worth, their progress in recovery and other factors, it may be necessary to limit the amount of time spent around them. Otherwise, a momentary down mood could turn into depression.

Similarly, it’s crucial for those in recovery to surround themselves with others who understand the challenges of overcoming dependency and are honest with them, but don’t give feedback that’s ultimately degrading or show behavior that’s otherwise abusive or unhealthy. Having a supportive network of friends is especially worthwhile when aspects of recovery become tough.

Avoiding Activities That Are Necessary for Recovery

Keeping a routine can help stave off depression… and getting out of the house for scheduled activities is often part of sticking to a daily plan. But depressed people often discover that the things they once enjoyed no longer give them pleasure. If you continually spends more time coming up with excuses not to attend recovery activities, it’s a signal that extra help is likely needed to overcome a probable instance of depression.

Another sign of depression is that people sleep more than usual. They may also have trouble getting out of bed and find they lack the motivation to do so. Together, these factors could mean recovering addicts gradually stop going to 12-step meetings, counseling sessions and other recovery-related appointments.

In any case, it’s helpful to have at least one friend who will hold you accountable and realize that you can’t just stay home even if that’s what a down mood tells them to do. Proactively asking that a person call you or show up on your doorstep to demand you get out of the house could you from ceasing engagement with the recovery process.Moreover, that caring and motivating friend may be the first person who detects that you are experiencing depression and not only a low mood that will soon pass, necessitating a professional intervention.

Knowing the Warning Signs of Depression

We’ve covered some of the symptoms of depression, but it’s ideal for people in recovery to research those in more depth and become familiar with them. Then, they should be more able to spot problems in themselves and seek help. However, the symptoms don’t always present in clear-cut ways.

If a person thinks to themselves, “I just don’t feel like myself,” and that awareness persists for weeks, that’s another indicator it’s time to get more help. People should remember that realizing extra help is required doesn’t show weakness — it displays strength.

About the author
Kate Harveston is a health researcher and journalist from Pennsylvania. Specific topics she really enjoys writing about include mental health, addiction, women's health, and the human condition. Outside of, you can find her at her blog,
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