My talking about alcohol and drugs here today is not as much about the addiction to those drugs as it is about the relationship they have with depression. One former client wrote in her journal:
“Friday, Dennis told me I shouldn’t drink, because if I do, I might commit suicide. When I’m sober, I’m safer than when drunk.
Now after a few beers, I think he’s right.”
There is no doubt that being depressed for even a short time sucks. When it lasts and lasts, and never seems to get better, there comes a need to find a way; any way to feel better. Asking for help is hard to do. Finding relief in drinking or drug use seems a lot easier, and unfortunately it seems to work. One of the biggest problems with any drug use is that the drug does provide what it’s advertised as providing. I won’t say that the feeling is always better, because sometimes using can be pretty scary. But it does make the user feel differently than he did. Feeling differently is usually the objective.
Alcohol and many of the drugs kids use are depressants. Although you feel different and maybe even better while you’re using, the long-term effect is that you are getting yourself more and more depressed. So, drinking or some other drug use, and depression become partners in a cycle that leads deeper and deeper into both a substance abuse problem and more serious depression.
In my experience, most of the suicides and suicide attempts I have dealt with were attempted when the person was either drinking or under the influence of some drug. This was stated clearly in another client’s journal.
“I’m so fucked up. It would be so easy now. I really don’t care if I live or if I die.
What difference would it really make?”
The cycle of depression and drug use lead to a strong form of denial. Users feel that the drugs are the only thing that is fun in their lives. Everything around them is falling apart and yet they are so scared of the depression that follows them they believe they need to keep using no matter what. It can be so easy to find justification for what they are doing. Another journal entry puts it better than I can.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks. The way I feel is that I’m going to get drunk whenever the fuck I want and do anything I want with whoever I want for no other reason than it’s fun.
And I will smoke as much pot as I want and get high as a fuckin’ kite. And they can all say I’m fucked up and a slut, but what matters is that I know I’m not,
and so do my friends.”
“And so do my friends”—now there is a justification for keeping up negative behavior. Ever think that friends are in the same boat and looking at everything from the same negative perspective? Friends are great to have. We all need them. But a REAL friend can look at someone and his behavior objectively and confront him with what he is doing to himself. They will help him look at the mask they wear and try to break through his denial. If you’re reading this and know someone struggling with the negative cycle of drinking, drugs, and depression, be that real friend.
It’s not easy to do. When a person is in denial, the mask gets stronger. If anyone tries to get through that mask, the person behind it often gets angry. The person behind the mask uses that anger to push a friend away. As soon as the friend gets angry back, the person behind the mask wins. He now has more reason to believe his anger is justified, and the friend has been pushed away from the truth. When good friends and family care, they are able to see through that mask. They know the mask is there to hide and protect what lies behind it. The best reaction is for friends and family to stay calm and consistent. They should point out what they see, let the person behind the mask know they understand, but still want that person to face the truth.
That friend or parent shouldn’t let the troubled adolescent’s anger stop her from being that consistent person. Sometimes it takes being gentle, and sometimes it means being really tough, but she always has to be consistent and keep looking for the person she knows is behind the mask.