Which Came First?

By Amy Baumgardner

What do you say to the person who thinks addiction is a choice? How do you respond when someone looks at you and laughs when you use the words alcoholism and disease in the same sentence? Not everyone will agree that addiction is a disease. Can you deter them from judging you and your illness? Does it matter?

Regardless of whether someone believes alcoholism is a choice or a disease, the causes of addiction are deeply rooted within the individual. Unless a person is willing to seek help for the addiction and its underlying causes, it’s inevitable he or she will suffer from the symptoms.

Which Came First?

For me, the most terrifying companion of my addiction was depression. For many addicts there is a definite connection between the two, as there was for me. Early in my drinking, I found I was using alcohol as a means to relax, decompress or drown my sorrows. Anytime there was a major stressful event, like a break-up or an argument, my alcohol was there. A few beers always took the edge off just enough so I could negotiate the pitfalls of my day. The tranquilizing effect of alcohol gave my emotions a time-out so I could regain some control, or so I thought.

Did my drinking cause my depression or did my depression cause me to drink too much? It is quite possible that both my drinking and my depression shared some environmental factors that triggered both conditions simultaneously. Anytime I met with conflict or discomfort, I sought refuge in a drink. Although I would feel a release, that release was short-lived. Before I knew it, I was ingesting more and more to get the same effect.

We know that environmental and social factors contribute to depression. But what I found most interesting were studies conducted in human genetics. A possible link was found between depression and drug dependency. According to research, cholinergic muscarinic 2 receptor (CHRM2) is engaged in some important functions in the brain, such as memory and cognition. CHRM2 has been implicated in depression. Other research suggests that those who carry CHRM2 will have a predisposition to alcohol or drug dependency. Interesting!

No doubt about it, alcoholism can cause serious damage to a person’s life. It wasn’t long before I was in deep financial, relationship and legal troubles. Not to mention the moral and ethical dilemmas I created. My poor choices and crippling hangovers threw me into a downward spiral of depression and self-defeating behaviors. And now my genetic makeup may influence me towards both depression and chemical dependency? Wonderful!

We can also find studies showing increased alcohol consumption has neurotoxic effects on the brain, effects which increase the risk of depression. Great, wonderful, marvelous, good to know, but what does all this mean? From what I have read, this may mean there is a correlation between substance abuse and a substance-induced mood disorder.

I was not surprised to find my own addiction’s co-pilot was depression. During my drinking I was miserable, sad, overwhelmed and hopeless; in a word, depressed. Because of these despondent feelings, I chose to self-medicate instead of seeking the help of a professional – bad decision. Drinking made my circumstances worse; and the worse things became the more I drank. I ignored my emotions and wished they would go away.

Once I was ready to admit I had a drinking problem and was willing to talk with someone about it, my outlook on life, though not necessarily my circumstances, improved. Over time my circumstances slowly improved, and I began to feel hopeful. Through the help of both a treatment program and a mental health professional, I was guided through my depression and into recovery.

No matter the causes of my addiction and depression, today I feel good about my life and the direction in which it is heading. I no longer ride the wave of despair. I stand confidently in my own skin and am living the life I had always imagined.

Amy Baumgardner is an author, freelance writer and truth-teller. She is committed to her recovery and sharing her message of faith, hope and forgiveness.

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