Substance abuse and depression

Image: Substance abuse and depression

Addictions can take you on a downward spiral - but don't give up hope.

I had been smoking marijuana for 2 years, but pot wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was failing school, lost all my real friends–I hated everything. So one night I got 5 Vicodin and was drinking vodka. I remember thinking that if I do this, I may never wake up. It was funny, the thought of never waking up didn’t scare me as much as the thought of facing my life sober. So I took the pills and guzzled the vodka. I didn’t try to die — I just didn’t try very hard to live.

That's a quote from James, a 16 year-old high school student. Teens like James often live in a stressful and often dangerous world. Easy access to drugs and alcohol combined with enormous social pressures have created an epidemic of stressed out, depressed teens who routinely “self-medicate” their sadness and low self-esteem.

Like amateur pharmacists, some teens eagerly experiment with new drugs, frequently combining them with alcohol. This dangerous attempt to alleviate the stress and pain in their lives always creates more problems than it cures. As abuse of drugs and alcohol escalates, so does their risk for overdose. For many depressed teens, drinking and drugging are a slow, quiet suicide.

A vicious cycle

Research shows that substance abuse and depression go hand in hand. And, conversely, depression increases the risk for substance abuse. Here’s how. All drugs of abuse, including alcohol, act upon the same area of the brain involved in the regulation of mood. Experimentation with drugs or alcohol alters the balance of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in this part of the brain. Regular use of mind altering drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and alcohol cause temporary surges in these neurotransmitters resulting is a short–lived “high.”

If someone is already depressed, the “high” will feel like a vacation from his or her emotional pain. But what goes up must come down — so the highs are followed by dramatic lows and the cycle starts over again. Tragically, most young substance abusers erroneously believe that the solution to their dark moods and life’s problems is to use more drugs or drink more alcohol.

What to do about it

If you are depressed or abusing drugs or alcohol, take heart because these problems are highly treatable. But you will need help. Talk with someone who can be objective and honest with you like a parent, trusted friend, pastor or family doctor. Treatment usually involves counseling, medication and 12 step meetings. Whatever it takes–do it. You life is precious and God has a purpose and plan for you.

For immediate help ...

In Australia, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, and go to www.lifeline.org.au

In the UK, contact Childline on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk

In the US, contact Reach Out on 1800-448-3000 or visit http://us.reachout.com

Or search google for suicide/depression helplines in your country.

This article reproduced with permission from the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

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