For many who have struggled with substance abuse it comes as no surprise that a link can be drawn between their drug or alcohol use and their mental health. A lot of people who struggle with addiction have experienced some form of emotional distress, trauma or abuse that has made a definite impact on their lives. While this may not be the sole reason behind their use, issues concerning mental health can contribute to drug or alcohol use in a dramatic way. With heroin and depression, the two tend to feed off of one another, creating an intense and deeper connection.
Depression is a very common but also very serious mood disorder, also referred to as:
- Major depressive disorder
- Clinical depression
This mental health condition causes a variety of symptoms that impact how an individual thinks, feels, and handles their day to day lives. A depression diagnosis depends on symptoms being present for at least two weeks, and some forms of depression will differ, or develop under unique circumstances. Some specific forms of depression include:
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
This is a depressed mood lasting for at least two years. Sometimes the episodes of major depression is experienced in periods of less severe symptoms, but still the symptoms persist for two years or more.
This is pretty straight forward. It happens when someone experiences severe depression along with some form of psychosis, such as:
These psychotic symptoms typically revolve around a particular depressive subject like guilt, poverty or illness.
Seasonal Affective Depression
This is the onset of depressive symptoms during winter months when there is less natural sunlight, which is why some call it ‘winter depression’. It is commonly characterized by:
- Social withdrawal
- Increase in sleep
- Weight gain
This depression typically disappears during spring and summer months as better weather returns, but comes back around every year.
Many women experience relatively mild depressive and anxiety symptoms after delivery, usually only lasting around two weeks. However, perinatal depression is much more serious.
Mothers with perinatal depression experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery, commonly known as postpartum depression. Feelings that accompany perinatal depression include:
- Extreme sadness
These can make it difficult for new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.
While bipolar disorder is technically different from depression, individuals with bipolar disorder do experience episodes of intensely low moods that qualify as major depression- referred to as ‘bipolar depression’.
However, someone with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high moods, either irritable or euphoric in nature. These moods are also called ‘mania’, or the less intense with are called ‘hypomania’. This is why bipolar disorder was once called ‘manic depressive disorder’.
Beyond these five there are other forms of depression, and symptoms of depression may vary from person to person. But for most people with depression the symptoms they do experience are consistent on an almost daily basis.
Psychology of Heroin
For those who don’t know, heroin is a synthetic drug produced from morphine. Morphine is a powerful analgesic derived from the opium poppy plant. The effects of heroin are a result of the substance binding with receptors in the brain that respond to opiates. Once ingested, heroin converts to morphine in the brain, and this potent compound effects the brain in ways that influence psychology.
Morphine slows the neurological activity in the brain, creating sedation. This sedation creates the desired effect of many heroin users, which is the sense of profound relaxation.
Yet, the National Alliance on Mental Illness warns that people with psychiatric disorders (such as depression) are more likely to experience very negative side-effects. So while people with depression may try to use heroin to numb themselves to feelings of sadness, guilt or despair, they actually create a chemical reaction in the brain that exacerbates their depressive symptoms.
Heroin and Depression
Heroin and depression have a symbiotic relationship that creates a viscous cycle. The two fuel each other. An individual may use heroin to try and escape their depressive feelings, but using heroin frequently worsens symptoms such as:
- Low energy
- Social isolation
- Negative mood
- Suicidal thoughts
Thus these feelings make the depression worse, the individual will use more heroin to escape, and the cycle continues.
With heroin and depression, the physical consequences of heroin use can also cause severe emotional distress. Physical effects of heroin that can increase feelings of depression include:
- Respiratory illness
- Blood-borne disease
- Muscular weakness
- Vascular damage
And heroin’s impact on an individual’s personal life can make depression even worse, such as:
- Financial problems
- Job loss
- Legal trouble
- Relationship issues
Again, these issues can cause a heroin user to abuse the drug more in order to cope with these difficulties, which continues to feed into their problems and exacerbate the issues even more.
Withdrawal from Heroin and Depression
Withdrawal from heroin is one of the typical reasons that many people trying to quit the drug are unsuccessful. These unpleasant side effects of not having the drug often pushes people trying to give up heroin back to the drug just to feel relief, and for those with depression the withdrawals from heroin can seem even more relentless.
Trying to abruptly discontinue heroin use without the help of medical detox will cause uncomfortable and sometimes extremely painful symptoms such as:
- Intense cravings
- Involuntary leg movement
- Muscle pain
- Sleeping problems
- Runny nose
- Stomach Pain
Heavy use over an extended period can also lead to seizures. But while the physical withdrawal symptoms are already pretty bad, the psychological side effects can seem impossible to overcome, especially for someone with depression or other mental health issues.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Heroin and Depression
One of the most critical parts of treatment for heroin users with depression is to find the root cause of the depression, which is also one of the most challenging aspect of recovery for heroin users. Depression is not just a bad mood, and it does not simply stem from one source. Some of the most common sources of depression include:
- Brain chemistry
- Psychological trauma
- Physical disability
- Stressful social environment
- Drug or alcohol abuse
Dual diagnosis treatment is crucial for someone struggling with heroin and depression because the two conditions have such similar symptoms, which make each other worse. In many cases, it is difficult to even discover what came first, depression or heroin addiction. Either way, a huge factor to overcoming heroin and depression is with comprehensive and holistic dual diagnosis treatment.
Simultaneously addressing both issues and giving equal attention to both conditions gives way for more complete recovery. If one of the two is ignored, then it has the potential to eventually cause a relapse into the other. The deeper connection with heroin and depression is that these each of them is commonly inspired by similar circumstances, including genetics and trauma. Both will thrive through the impact of the other. Both are damaging and potentially fatal. But there is also help for each, and when treated in tandem they can each be overcome.