Sun. Jul 3rd, 2022

Depression in Recovery: Fighting for Sobriety with Internal Affliction

Overcoming addiction is a fight in itself. When mental illness and feelings of hopelessness arise in early recovery, people in active addiction might stray from their goals to obtain long-term sobriety. Depression in recovery is one the most common obstacles recovering substance users face during their journey. Depression takes a significant toll on an individual and greatly affects the person’s motivation to stay away from addictive substances. It can arise related to factors before and after drug use.

The symptoms of depression derive from the psychological, genetic, environmental, and biochemical factors of an individual. Depression in recovery is prominent and often uncontrollable in individuals who fall victim to the disease.


Depression is a mental illness that interferes with everyday life. When people think of the word, they often associate it with sadness or feeling “blue.” However, clinical depression is much more severe than being down in the dumps. When people have this mental health disorder, they feel numb and empty. They also may feel an overwhelming lack of accomplishment, motivation, and willingness. This causes individuals to feel heavy, in a sense that they are carrying around these feelings in their day-to-day lives.

For a person recovering from substance abuse, this can be dangerous. People who are recovering from addiction need to be strong from within. If they are struggling with depression in recovery and let it get the best of them, it could lead to many losses, including their sobriety.

Individuals who abuse drugs are often self-medicating an underlying issue that they may know they have. Depression is not the only mental health disorder that coincides with drug abuse, but it is most commonly found in people struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Although the individual may be self-medicating if depression is pre-exposed, the person may also develop a mental illness after getting sober.


Many people who enter sobriety have co-occurring disorders. Overcoming addiction and mental illness at once can be challenging. It is not uncommon for a person in recovery to initially feel lost or saddened by their recent life-changing decisions. It is also not unusual that mistreatment or lack of treatment for their depression in recovery leads to relapse.

When a person enters sobriety, they engage in a way of life they may have never experienced before. This can lead to situational depression as well as clinical depression. When an individual experiences moments of sadness based on a traumatic event, such as getting sober, they briefly experience the feelings of depression but can easily let them go.

Although depression can be situational, the real concern comes from clinical depression. When clinical depression is present, there is no source. The feelings arise out of nowhere. When nothing is causing depression in recovery, treating it can be difficult if the signs are unclear. Fighting for sobriety with a mental illness can often make the fight seem impossible to conquer. Addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful despite being sober. When mental illness comes into the picture, it increases the severity of addiction recovery.

If a person in recovery is not feeling a sense of accomplishment, they may start to question why they are even sober in the first place.


When people get sober, they expect a life filled with joy and happiness. When things do not go as planned, they might begin to think recovery is not worth it. To them, treating their addiction meant all their problems would vanish. However, this is nowhere near the truth. In fact, many more problems can arise because they are now dealing with their sober self. There is nothing to mask or suppress the true feelings of their internal being. With no suppression of thoughts or feelings, one may realize they are struggling with depression in recovery. To their luck, depression is treatable if action is taken quickly.

The symptoms of depression are easily distinguishable when the person in active addiction accumulates a significant amount of clean time.  People suffering from depression usually have symptoms such as these:

  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, or “emptiness”
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Disinterest in activities or hobbies
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Harmful thoughts (suicide, homicide, death)

Having these symptoms masked by drug use for long periods can intensify these symptoms once a person enters sobriety, so it is important to quickly recognize and act on these feelings and thoughts. The person may or may not know how to deal with these thoughts and feelings alone. Seeking treatment can help someone combat the symptoms of depression in recovery so they can become healthy and feel confident in their sobriety.


Although depression comes from various sources, the effects they have on an individual remain the same. When referring to depression in recovery, it is most likely pre-existing, but it can be caused by recent events in someone’s life. Feelings will arise in early recovery that may seem unsettling to a person. It is important to understand where depression comes from and why it goes hand in hand with substance abuse.

  • Environmental factors of depression arise from the current situations of the individual. Different examples include trauma, stress, and early exposure to drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Genetics allow the mental health disorder to be passed down through generations. This is likely for people who have family members, especially parents, who are diagnosed with depression.
  • Biochemical refers to the lack of chemical production in the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are depleted in individuals who have depression, especially after extended drug use. The brain is less likely to respond accordingly to pleasure when this occurs.

All of the causes, by nature or by nurture, can be treated effectively with a holistic approach or medication.


Treating depression in recovery depends on the diagnosis. A diagnosis should be sought by a medical professional to make sure the individual is correctly treating the disorder. There are several approaches to treating this disease.

Some may feel strongly about medication while others seek a more holistic approach. Despite the different causes and effects of depression, treatment is vital. When a person in recovery chooses to ignore the clear signs of depression, there is a chance it will worsen over time. This causes a series of dilemmas because the person’s whole life is potentially at risk.

When it comes to recurring feelings in sobriety, an individual is urged to connect with a support group of some sort and utilize the coping skills he or she has learned in treatment and developed during their journey. However, depression can become crippling for the individual, causing them to stray away from their support and leaving them to their own devices.

Often, when a person with addiction is left to make decisions on their own, in a healthy state of mind, the outcome is never beneficial to sobriety. There are numerous techniques used to treat depression in recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and natural remedies can reduce the symptoms of depression. Addiction and mental illness are two diseases that go hand in hand and often are treated with the same approach.


There is no right or wrong way when it comes to treatment for mental health and substance abuse. Treating disorders are individually based. Some people can benefit greatly from medication, taking the natural route, or both.

People who can combat less severe depression on their own may engage in activities such as:

  • Exercise
  • Eating well
  • Talking to support groups
  • Journaling
  • Natural remedies to increase/ stabilize mood
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Prayer

However beneficial, there may come a point when these techniques do not work.

Depression, if left untreated, can worsen over time.

This is where taking prescribed medications come into play. Many people in recovery might feel judged for taking a prescribed medication. But in cases like these, taking medication will lead them to a more successful life. Ultimately, the decision is left to the individual and should not be based on outside factors. The decision to treat depression with medication should come only from the individual and their intentions in sobriety.




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