When Depression Hits: Wanting to Isolate in Addiction Treatment

There are so many ups and downs that we tend to experience in recovery, and it makes sense why; with so many different factors at play – such as our mental, physical and spiritual health – it’s no wonder that it will take some time for us to become grounded. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, and there are many times when you’ll feel confident in recovery just as there will be many times when you’ll be afraid to fail. Mental illness is prevalent amongst those in addiction recovery – according to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH),  major depression is one of the most common disorders in the United States.

The Effects of Depression

This year, writer Maggie Weeks shared her experience of struggling with depression throughout addiction recovery via The Fix. She explained,

“In the beginning my sobriety was no fun at all: when I looked through those same bay windows at the same beautiful view, a huge dose of anhedonia would hit me. ‘Who cares if it’s beautiful?’…’What a loser you are’, or ‘aren’t you a little old to still be blowing up your life’?”

When we’re in the throes of depression, our world feels bland. We don’t see the brightness of colors anymore. We don’t want to interact with people. We’d rather retreat to our safety zone – which is within ourselves, in our room or in a secluded place – because we don’t feel worthy of being around people. As Medical News Today emphasizes, depression can make us feel a number of ways:

  •    We have trouble concentrating
  •    Everything feels hopeless
  •    Self-esteem is very low, as we tend to view ourselves as “failures”
  •    Insomnia may ensue, or otherwise we may have broken sleep
  •    Chronic fatigue
  •    Food may either be used for comfort, or it may not feel appetizing at all
  •    We may feel pain or discomfort throughout the body

Where depression starts, for many people in addiction recovery, is shame; a 2018 study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that high levels of shame are linked with problem drinking, which places those with depression and shame at high risk for abusing substances.

Depression in Recovery: Where to Go From Here

There are so many expectations hinging on our success in recovery (whether set by ourselves subconsciously or by loved ones), and sometimes it feels relentless and overwhelming. We may fear failure, or we may fear being around people because we don’t want to be judged – and so depression kicks in, and those negative thoughts take over our mental headspace. We may want so deperately to push through and become more active in our 12-Step meetings, or to express ourselves more clearly in therapy – but how do we get there when we don’t even feel we have the energy to muster up this type of engagement? Where do we go from here?

If you’re going through a “down” period in your recovery right now, it’s important that you – first and foremost – not blame yourself for how you’re feeling. Having both a mental illness and a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) means that you’re going to be experiencing a lot of different thoughts and feelings – and even though you don’t feel like it, you need to rely on your support network.

A 2016 study published in the journal Substance Abuse Rehabilitation found that peer support can benefit a person in so many ways: treatment engagement, substance-related issues, cravings and confidence in recovery, and more. The people around you in treatment are just as scared, just as nervous and just as unsure about what this next step in their lives is going to entail. You have to remind yourself that your depression is telling you that you don’t matter, that nobody wants to get to know you or that you don’t have anything important to say – that’s not you.

If you don’t know what to say to your therapist, tell them that. Have them guide you into what you’re thinking and feeling. While it may be uncomfortable to let people in, you’re taking a major step towards combating the symptoms of depression.

Treating a Dual Diagnosis

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains that in many cases, withdrawal and recovery from substance abuse can exacerbate symptoms of depression, and vice versa. This is why it’s important that the treatment you receive is centered on treating both conditions, not just one. Dual diagnosis is incredibly common and can be treated with both holistic practices (such as yoga, meditation, neurofeedback therapy, etc.) as well as more traditional practices (such as through medication management and therapy).

By working closely with your healthcare team, you can create a personalized treatment program that will get you started on the path you need to be on for optimal mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.


Burning Tree West is a transitional college program dedicated to helping adults between the ages of 18 and 29 recover from addiction. Our campus is located in Tucson, Arizona, near the campuses of the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. Our program is designed to help young adults overcome addiction, build foundational life skills, and pursue their educational and career goals. Contact us today for more information.