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Addiction and Depression: It’s Not Just Sadness

Just look on the bright side! Come on, you have so much to live for! Count your blessings!

If you’ve been dealing with depression for some time, then you’ve probably heard all of this and more.

You’ve already spent lots of time and energy trying to snap yourself out of it. You’ve tried to go along with well-meaning friends and family members in their attempts to “cheer you up”.

But when that didn’t work, you isolated yourself. You started avoiding people, not because you don’t care about them, but because it was too hard for each of you to relate to the other.

The Depression Disconnect

The brilliant writer and cartoonist Allie Brosh put it this way in her autobiographical Hyperbole and a Half post Depression Part II:

“It’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen.”

The problem is that most people don’t understand the nature of depression. They equate it with deep grief and sorrow, or even with laziness and apathy.

And while there are certainly elements of sadness within depression, clinical depression is much more than “just sadness”.

The True Nature of Depression

Here’s how we define depression in our Program: Depression is anger turned inward.

Depression is all of the anger you haven’t allowed yourself to feel or express, turned back against yourself. When a person has a lot of internalized anger, they experience a cluster of symptoms that we call depression.

Now, there’s a caveat here: while swallowed-down anger does cause depression, depression usually does not feel like anger as it deepens.

As Allie Brosh notes in her blog post about her own experience, the later stages of depression are marked by “emotional deadening”.

When pressed, people who are depressed will use words such as “numb” to describe their feeling state.

This might seem strange. You might be wondering, If depression is all about the feeling of anger turned inward, then what’s with the lack of feelings? And where does addiction come into play?

The Connection Between Depression and Addiction

Here’s how it works. If you read our posts on Anger and Addiction and The Anger, Hurt, Loving Model, then you know that setting up internal walls around our anger leads to depression.

When we refuse to feel our anger, it reduces our ability to feel our other emotions as well. Anger won’t stay in a neat little box, so we keep having to put up more walls to avoid it.

We build one wall here, and then another there, and a lot of energy gets trapped in our psyches. As it turns out, feeling “nothing” actually feels … pretty awful!

So, we look for ways to feel better. We reach for a drink or a drug or a compulsive habit that will take us out of ourselves for a little while.

When we do that over and over, we have an addiction on our hands.

Recovering Your Feelings (and Your Life)

Fortunately, you can heal from your addiction by addressing the underlying core issues that precipitated it. If you work with your depression, you’ll find your desire to abuse substances diminishing rapidly.

As we wrote in our post Understanding Anger and Addiction:

“The way out [of the addictive cycle] is to learn constructive ways to express our anger and to make it okay to feel the hurtful episodes and other emotional hurts. When we do that, we’re able to apply love to the parts inside that hurt and then we’re able to heal.”

So that’s the bad news: the only way out is through. The path out of depression necessitates feeling those feelings of anger that you’ve been pushing away for so long.

But the good news is that once you actually do that — once you get in touch with your buried anger and learn how to use it constructively — then you stop self-destructing.

When you are able to feel your anger in a healthy way, you see that it’s not out to destroy you. Rather, it’s there to guide you.

Think of anger as an old-fashioned torch with a flame on the top; sure, it’s dangerous if you swing it around at random, but when you hold it purposefully it lights your way through the dark.

Addiction and Depression: It’s Not Just Sadness

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Addiction and Depression: It’s Not Just Sadness. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Aug 2017
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