Addiction has a negative effect on all the people close to an addict. The loved ones of addicts endure lies, manipulation, emotional and sometimes physical abuse. The daily reality for co-addicts is centered on fear, sadness, pain, and worry. This way of life can eventually take its toll on family members. Serious mental health issues may surface as a result.
Here, we review the two main mental health disorders which can surface as you’re living with someone in active addiction: Depression and Anxiety. Then, we invite your questions, comments, or stories in the space at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all comments personally and promptly.
Depression feels like you have a hole in your chest where your heart used to be. Feelings of hopelessness and displeasure become overwhelming. Prolonged depression can affect your health both mentally and physically. Persistent sadness may lead to clinical depression which can affect:
- eating habits
- sleeping habits
- your thoughts
When you are depressed, there is no easy way to snap out of it. You lose the ability to get up and decide to be happy. This is where depression becomes a problem. Major or clinical depression can negatively affect how mechanisms work in your body and your brain. But there are ways to cope with depression and addiction in the family.
Situational vs. Major Depression
Depression can come and go due to the situation. You may experience depression due to a trauma, loss, divorce, or other factors which will eventually work themselves out over time. But how do you know when depression is short-term, or long-term? And how can you get help?
When loving an addict and living with an addict in denial, it is likely the situation has lasted a long time and will continue for an unidentified amount of time. Living with constant unknown and instability and watching someone you love decline can cause situational depression to evolve into major or clinical depression. Here are some major symptoms. Clinical depression may cause you to:
- withdraw from people
- withdraw from situations
- quit social activities
- avoid things you used to do
Dealing with depression in daily life can be learned. However, some cases require professional help. Depression can be so severe it causes suicidal thoughts, complete hopelessness, and may need to be treated with behavioral therapies and medication. When negative circumstances do not go away, that is when unhappiness can make the transition from situational depression to long term mental health issues.
Anxiety and depression usually go hand-in-hand. Long lasting anxiety can cause depression and long lasting depression can cause anxiety. To differentiate, anxiety keeps you feeling on edge. Negative thoughts persist until you start to feel anxious performing every day activities. Sometimes anxiety becomes the norm. Anxiety is constant feelings of unease, worry, stress, angst, fear, and can even escalate to panic disorder.
Both anxiety and panic disorder left untreated can have devastating effects on your psyche and your physical health. Anxiety affects your mood and stress level. Anxiety can lead to panic attacks, over or under eating, suppressed immune function, and exacerbate chronic illnesses. However, anxiety treatment can help you learn new ways to cope with known and unknown elements in your life. And, you won’t be struggling in the dark.
Living with and addict can cause PTSD
So, what can potentially happen when you internalize the depression and anxiety over time? I can tell you about this possibility by sharing something with you from my own personal life.
Living with an addict for twelve years, I lived with uncertainty for a long period of time. When the situation finally ended I felt free and learned to live my life and be happy. It was not until years later that I had an episode of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that came out of nowhere.
It was a devastating period of my life where depression and panic disorder was so severe I could not function at all. I felt as if my life was over and could not cope with any situation, even things as simple as bathing my children. I could not speak without crying, focus, maintain a thought and my mind was racing with fear every moment of my waking and sleeping hours.
Long-term effects of life with an addict can be treated
What I uncovered with the help of a therapist, meditation and deep introspection was there were long-term effects due to living with an addict for twelve years. Jumping right back in to life feet first left underlying issues unresolved, residual stress, and new stress that I did not have the time or consciousness to deal with.
So, when I moved a thousand miles away from all of my loved ones it was just this very traumatic event or spark which ignited my PTSD. As happy as I was about my new life, husband, and my three beautiful children, the effects of my twelve years living with extreme anxiety and bouts of situational depression were suppressed issues that erupted due to a perfect storm.
What to do when you need help?
Addiction affects many. The mental health of an addict is only one source of emotional and psychological anguish that trickles down to others. But living a life with chronic depression and anxiety day after day is like not living at all. It is the antithesis of the word “life.” So what can you do if you’re overwhelmed by anxiety or depression?
1. Be proactive. It would be ideal to deal with the stress and anxiety before it gets out of hand but this is not usually the case because a co-addict can become consumed with an addict’s addiction. If you’re living with an addict, talk about your feelings with a trusted friend, advisor, or professional. Getting these feelings out in the open is step 1.
2. Know that help is always there. When depression and anxiety render your life unbearable, finding help at that point may be more difficult. It is hard to reach out and change your life when you are deep into a depression. However, know that psychologists, family counselors, and licensed clinical social workers are certified to offer help. So if you see signs of these feelings, it is advantageous to ask for help ASAP.
3. Commit to self-development over the long term. Learn coping skills early on would be great. But, sometimes personal changes comes on the order of decades rather than months. Commit to personal growth as a lifelong process. And you’ll get both the help and the peace that you long for as you grow.