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Depression, Mood & Existential Factors of Substance Abuse

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Why do people become addicted to alcohol or drugs? In this lesson, we'll explore some of the issues that can contribute to addiction, including common mood disorders and existential factors that people face.

Substance Abuse

Dean is depressed. He frequently feels low and sometimes has trouble getting out of bed in the morning. He feels like life is meaningless, and that he has no purpose. And lately, he's been drinking alcohol more often and taking prescription drugs illegally as well.

An addiction is a psychological and/or physical dependence on alcohol, drugs, or other substances. Dean, for example, is finding it harder and harder to function without the alcohol and drugs.

There are many theories as to why people like Dean become addicted to substances. Some focus on the way in which a person's mood makes them vulnerable to addiction. Let's look closer at a few of those theories.

Depression & Mood Disorders

Dean feels blue and has trouble getting out of bed. He's lost interest in things that he used to enjoy, like hanging out with friends, and the only thing that seems to help him get through the day is the abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs.

Dean is suffering from depression, which is a type of mood disorder. Mood disorders are often comorbid (or, present together in the same person at the same time) with addiction. That is, people who have mood disorders are often also addicts.

Another type of mood disorder that is often comorbid with addiction is bipolar disorder. With bipolar disorder, a person swings back and forth between depression and mania (or, periods of agitation and high energy). Dean's friend Solange is like that; she sometimes spends days in bed, while at other times is highly active and doesn't sleep for days.

Like Dean, Solange is addicted to alcohol. She drinks to try to cope with the symptoms of her bipolar disorder, just like Dean drinks to deal with the symptoms of his depression. This is a common practice among people who have mood disorders; their addiction results from self-medicating, or taking drugs or alcohol to deal with the symptoms of a disorder, instead of seeing a doctor or other professional.

Existential Factors

Remember from our example that Dean isn't just depressed; he also feels like life is meaningless and that he has no purpose. Certainly, these thoughts are linked to his depression, but they are also a symptom of something else.

An existential crisis occurs when a person questions whether his or her life has meaning. People in an existential crisis often feel depressed, but the cause of their depression is the questioning of the point of life. They feel that there is no point to life, which causes them to be depressed.

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