One of the most common mental disorders, depression is a serious and complex disease that involves far more than the sad feelings, or ups and downs that everyone goes through. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities.
There are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic predisposition, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.
Major risk factors in developing depression include:
Personal or family history of depression
Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
Death or loss of a loved one
Major events: even good events, such as moving or graduating can sometimes trigger depression. Other events that increase risk include: changing jobs, losing a job, getting married or divorced, giving birth, retiring
Serious physical illnesses
Certain medications can trigger depression as a side effect
Conflicts, social isolation, being cast out of a family or social group
If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you enjoyed earlier
Decreased energy or fatigue
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Appetite and/or weight changes
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. The severity and frequency of symptoms, and how long they last, will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Although we are still far from the complete understanding of the neurological underpinnings of depression, experts believe stress can suppress the production of new neurones (nerve cells) in the hippocampus, thus causing depression. Every real or perceived threat to your body triggers a cascade of stress hormones that produces physiological changes. Your view of the world and your unacknowledged assumptions about how the world works influence how you feel and how you cope with stressful events.
Good newsis that this can change! There are many effective treatments for depression, usually including some combination of talk therapy and medications. Start by seeing your doctor. Together, you can figure out what helps you feel better and handle stress in a healthier way.
Recovery is never out of reach, no matter how hopeless your situation seems. Here are some tips to help you on the way:
Set realistic goals for yourself. This can help improve your self-confidence, which in turn makes you less likely to want to do drugs.
Spend time with your loved ones. Other people can offer you advice and support, which is a protective factor against drug use.
Talk to someone or join a support group. You don’t have to face this on your own. Getting support from others will help you stand strong against drugs.
Do something else to feel good. Take up a hobby, spend more time with family and friends, play a video game, go for a movie, learn a new language, play a musical instrument or volunteer in your community. Engaging in other enjoyable activities will distract you from thinking about drugs.
Avoid temptation. Surround yourself with people who do not use drugs and who think being sober is a better way to live. Don’t go to places you used to go when you used drugs.
Seek Treatment. The way to become drug-free is to first confront the physical addiction: consider attending a detox facility. The next step is addressing the emotional issues that lead to the decision to use drugs. The most common form of treatment is behavioural therapy — which may involve some combination of group, family, and individual therapy.
Try relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or urge surfing. This will help you cope with stress without turning to drugs.
Practice healthier living habits. Exercise, eating well and meditation are excellent ways to avoid using drugs. The results you feel from living a healthier lifestyle will help you resist addiction cravings.
There are several signs, both physical and behavioural, to look out for when suspecting that a loved one, a friend or a co-worker is using drugs. Each drug manifests differently in the body, but the following are some general indications that a person might be using drugs:
Drug Abuse Physical Warning Signs
Red, watery or glazed eyes, pupils unusually large or small
Sudden weight loss or weight gain
Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
Keeping irregular hours, loss of sleep
Extreme hyperactivity; excessive talkativeness
Slow or staggering walk
Worsening hygiene or physical health
Bruises, infections, or other physical signs at the drug’s entrance site on the body.
Blushing, pale or swollen face
Drug Abuse Behavioral Signs
Drugs can cause profound changes in moods and emotions. The following behavioural changes may indicate drug abuse:
Changes in personality and overall attitude, particularly negative ones
Person often appears lethargic or ‘spaced out’
Dramatic changes in habits/priorities
Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid for no apparent reason
Sudden angry outbursts, mood swings or irritability
Unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness for short periods of time
Hallucinogens: (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behaviour including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations; mood swings; detachment from people; absorption with self or other objects, slurred speech; confusion.
Heroin: Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light; needle marks; sleeping at unusual times; sweating; vomiting; coughing, sniffling; twitching; loss of appetite.
Inhalants: (glues, aerosols, vapours): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; the appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability.
Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss; excessive snacking or eating at inappropriate times.
Stimulants: (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times; may go long periods of time without eating or sleeping; weight loss; dry mouth and nose.
If your child, spouse or someone else you care about is displaying any of this type of behaviour or physical signs, they might have a substance abuse issue. But as long as motivation to quit using drugs is present, recovery is possible.
If you suspect a loved one is using, talk with them before jumping to conclusions. If you do find evidence of drug abuse, lend them a hand by helping them seek the treatment they need. Once addiction has taken hold, it’s critical that they receive professional care to reverse the damage substance abuse has caused. It will take time, patience, and compassion to help a friend or family member acknowledge and deal with their disease.
The first step to solving a drinking problem is recognising that you have one. It is not always easy to tell if your drinking has crossed the line. Nevertheless, the fact that you are thinking about it is a good start. Denial is one of the biggest obstacles to getting help for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Not all alcohol abusers become full-blown alcoholics, but it is a big risk factor. Sometimes alcoholism develops suddenly in response to a stressful change, such as a breakup, retirement, or loss of a loved one. Other times, it gradually creeps up on you. If you’re a binge drinker or you drink every day, the risks of developing alcoholism are greater. Also, many drinking problems start when people use alcohol to self-soothe and relieve stress.
Other symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcoholism that you should look out for include:
You regularly drink when you are alone
Other people are worried about your drinking habits
You are having blackouts
Worrying about when you’ll be able to have your next drink
Lying about how much or how often you drink
Relationships with friends or family are being affected by your drinking
You tried to stop drinking or to drink less and found that you can’t
You get in trouble when drinking.
Regularly drinking more than you intended to.
Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
Neglecting your responsibilities at home, work, or school because of your drinking.
The most severe form of problem drinking, alcoholism involves all the symptoms of alcohol abuse, but it also involves physical dependence on alcohol.
The early major warning sign of alcoholism is having to drink a lot more than you used to in order to feel the same effect. This means that your organism is developing tolerance to alcohol.
The second huge red flag is having to drink to relieve withdrawal symptoms, such as trembling, sweating, nausea or vomiting. This means that your body depends on the alcohol to function.
If you’re ready to admit you have a drinking problem, you’ve already taken the first step. Reaching out for support is the second step. Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, or get therapy, recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on. Your continued recovery depends on continuing mental health treatment, learning healthier coping strategies, and making better decisions when dealing with life’s challenges.