Early recovery is often seen as the hardest part in getting sober. After the initial hurdles of detoxification and withdrawal, it’s time to face the emotional and psychological effects of long-term addiction. For many, going sober is not just a matter of foregoing drugs, but it’s a matter of giving up the comfort and coping power that drugs have.
There is a reason depression and addiction are so powerfully intertwined, and it has a lot to do with the brain, how it reacts to drug use, and how addiction promotes and feeds on a painful cycle of negative thinking.
Why Depression and Addiction Go Hand in Hand
Depression and addiction are often intertwined, either because depression led someone to become addicted, or the addiction led them down the path to depression. The reason both go hand-in-hand is because they revolve around negative thinking. While addiction is technically all about feeling good, the reality is that when drug use goes out of hand, it very quickly turns into an abusive relationship.
There are two forms of dependence in addiction – one is physical, and the other is emotional. An emotional dependence is marked by a reliance on drug use as a coping mechanism for emotional pain. Take for example a teen who is completely hooked to the smartphone. In one way, there is a natural incentive to pay attention to the phone, as it is integral for modern social behavior. But teens can become completely lost in technology, barely interacting with the real world and instead retreating to online conversations, social networks, and video games.
When this begins to affect their concentration, their responsibilities, and their behavior towards others, it’s clear that there is a negative impact at play. Yet trying to pull this teen away from their phone could result in verbal and physical backlash, and an emotional breakdown. They have developed an emotional dependence on the device as a way to cope with some form of stress, from trouble at school to a lack of connection with others.
This is a crude and simple example, and most examples are far more complex and require a greater understanding of the situation and all the facts, but emotional dependence can lead to extreme outbursts of negative emotion, including anger and depression.
If a person relies on drugs to feel better, then getting off drugs can rob them of an efficient, albeit harmful coping mechanism. This is where PAWS often develops.
What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a disorder where withdrawal symptoms persist long after the drug has left the body. They can be seen as aftershocks of the since-gone physical dependence, and come in the form of mood swings, cravings, and a rollercoaster of emotions – including depression.
Although these effects are similar to what patients go through during initial withdrawal symptoms at a clinic, they are in fact most likely psychological adaptations – at a certain point of long-term drug use, the brain gets used to the cycle of withdrawal and relapse, and addiction has become a “normal state”. These mental reverberations are the brain basically sorting itself out, and they can often include symptoms of depression or psychosis.
If you present with signs of PAWS, then it’s best to contact a professional and get a proper diagnosis, as well as a plan moving forward.
It Is Important to Seek Help
The danger of developing depressive symptoms during recovery is high, and for various reasons. From aftereffects of the addiction, to an emotional dependence on drugs to deal with other problems, to the addiction itself being caused by an underlying depression, many people who go through recovery struggle with negative thoughts, including thoughts of suicide.
This is not something you should be facing alone. Get help and get the support you need to tackle this in a healthy way. Enter into a sober living home. Tackling addiction alone can end in relapse, or worse.
You’re not powerless, of course. There are steps you can take to minimize the danger of developing a depression or another condition while in recovery. For one, you could focus on having fun.
Have Fun Being Sober
There is no telling how long recovery takes – just like addiction itself, it depends highly on each individual’s story and circumstances. Your ability to recover from addiction and move onto a new chapter in your life may differ completely from someone else’s ability to do the same, and that is nothing to be ashamed of, or sad about. Do not compare your progress to others – when it comes to getting sober, the only goal is to get sober and stay sober.
It does not matter how long it takes to get comfortable with your new sober life – what matters is that you get comfortable in the first place. From day one, that might seem like an impossible challenge. For many stepping out of a long term addiction, sobriety can be a painful smack in the face. Accompanying the usual withdrawal symptoms are often long and hard pangs of guilt, as well as painful memories that had been bottled up and avoided through months and years of drug use. The first instinct for many is to try and get away from all those feelings – but as with many things, the only way past it all is straight through it.
It takes a lot of strength and determination to power through the early phase of recovery and come out the other side somehow still hopeful that there is a future for you where you stay clean and happy.
The first step to embracing sobriety is finding out how to become comfortable with it. Here are a few ways to approach that idea:
- Try out old hobbies and see if you still have a knack for them.
- Approach new tasks and experiences, book tickets for events you have never been to, be open to new things.
- Utilize the internet to meet new people, visit workshops, take classes, and join clubs.
- Engage in something physical, anything as long as it’s your definition of fun.
- Take up a creative hobby like playing music, writing, or digital art.
- Try your hand at a long-term project, like wood working, amateur carpentry, or oil painting.
To keep things short – find as many ways as possible to keep yourself busy, and do not be afraid to try out new things. You may just surprise yourself with what truly makes you happy and interests you and finding out exactly what best tickles your fancy is the most effective way to sealing the deal on your sobriety.