The following is an article from a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience. The article focuses on his experience with drug addiction, the similarities between depression and addiction, and occasional misdiagnosis between the two.
If you think that you may be struggling with some kind of addiction, please contact a healthcare professional immediately. It’s important that you are completely open and honest about what you’re going through so that they send you down the right road to recovery.
If you have been given a diagnosis and aren’t 100% sure or comfortable with what you’ve been told – get a second, third, fourth opinion – whatever you need to feel set to tackle your problem. Doctors are extremely experienced with what they are doing, but it’s important to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible and look at all of the options & solutions. Let me know if you need help with this.
“Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Imagine changing the word “Depression” in the above paragraph to “Addiction” …it gives food for thought about what depression is and how similar the symptoms are to addiction. The addiction we all know that goes untreated, the people suffering, be it on the streets with drug addiction, or the social acceptable forms of addiction, gambling, love and sex, eating disorders, prescription medication or alcoholism.
So what is the difference? And how do medical ‘professionals’ know?
All too often I hear the same story as a professional these days that relates too closely with my own. Addiction is a disease that affects your mood massively, an emotional cancer, delusional thinking, potentially along the lines with a manic depressive when things get bad enough. So how does anyone know the difference? I’ve seen more suicides from untreated addiction than anything else on my journey over the years.
The reality is during my active addiction, I was severely in a depressed mental state, but I didn’t need medication, I needed a way out of the life I was living. I went from pillar to post within all the mental health services and so called professional bodies that helped people via the doctors, but no one seemed to know what to do with me. I was labeled as depressed, unhappy, miserable, as having eating problems, even one doctor suggested I had ‘psychomotor retardations’ – which apparently means I have slight learning difficulties and a bit slow.
Even crazier than that, eventually they gave me drugs to deal with my drug problem, sure one of my problems was drugs –the fact I didn’t have enough EVER! But giving me drugs to deal with my drug problem? Surely that’s not the solution.
On top of that the drugs they prescribed me were worse than the street drugs I was committing crime to get hold of, so the withdrawal and depressed state they left me in when I stopped taking them was 10x worse.
At the time I was labeled ‘depressed’ and put onto anti-depressants – Prozac was the “in thing”. The doctor convinced me this is what I needed to help lift my mood and make my life happier, that I would then be able to go out, get a job, join a club, take up some activities and get a life – all the things you really DO NOT want to do when you’re feeling at the end of your tether or just hiding away from the world.
All that happened to me in the following months and years was that I continued to take the anti-depressants and take street drugs on top of them, psychologically I was dependent as I was fearful of stopping – thinking my mood would sink. Physically I was dependent on street drugs and prescribed medication. Now what do I do….
My life was a total mess, I was alienated from all my family, no one in any professional sense knew how to help me, suicide was really a strong option at that time, misery and pain was not option, it was a permanent state of being.
Recovery from addiction – depression, labels and stigma!
When I had had enough of being sick and tired, I came to the realization that my life was not going to take shape by itself, I had lost everything and everyone and that place of real desperation motivated me to put 1 foot in front of the other on the road to recovery.
Before recovery I can’t ever recall being happy, I was a miserable kid, I suffered a lot of trauma during childhood (and yes I think its related but that’s another story) but I came to know happiness without labels, medication of any type, be it street drugs or prescribed ones. The stigma of what I had been doing with my life stayed with me for a long time, especially with family, but eventually it lessened, and life went on, I attended mutual aid to help me in my recovery, I got a new circle of friends who didn’t use drugs, but were very much like me and I started a new process of learning how to live without medication. Surrounded by people who believed in me and wanted to help me without an ulterior motive (a new concept).
What happened was I started to meet people who had been on a similar journey being diagnosed as depressed, put on prescription medications, no one knowing how to help them and eventually they found recovery from addiction, found the depression was gone.
From depressed drug addict to Psychotherapist
After all my years of working with people, helping people suffering with addictions, I had decided I needed a better set of tools to work with, things seemed to run a lot deeper than what people presented with on the surface, trauma, rape, childhood abuse, beatings, bullying, and I wanted to tools to help.
I had had transactional analysis as a therapy and it fitted really well with my beliefs so I started on that journey of training. What I realized while studying all the personality disorders, depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia was that “most people” had some of the traits listed in the DSM-5 of all of the personality disorders at some point in their lives, and were often misdiagnosed, like I had been during my active addiction.
As a psychotherapist, I am not a doctor and don’t give medical advice, I don’t suggest people stop taking pills they are prescribed and all medication changes should be dealt with by a medical professional.
What I do know is that a large percentage of people who I see, work with, help, come to contact with change their lives in a positive way, without medication, even with the symptoms of some type of disorder, there is a difference between being disordered and having traits of a disorder.
There seems to be a big difference between doctor / psychiatrist and psychotherapist in that those psychiatrists are all too eager to give out medication without a real empathy and understanding of what people are suffering with.
I hope for a better future where the people empowered to pull the trigger with prescription medications for mental health issues are better equipped to understand the problems of the sufferer in a holistic way.
Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist
22 years of addiction recovery