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All of us have experienced sadness, disappointment or a feeling of being lost and not knowing which step to take next in our lives. Some of us deal with the pressure by using and abusing different substances, and it sometimes spirals out of control.

Depression is an illness that affects more than 300 million people worldwide. There are several different types, and many different causes. Even though depression can be treated successfully in a number of ways, globally, less than half of people who suffer from this condition — and in some regions, less than 10 percent — receive the help they need. The reasons for this are lack of resources, lack of trained personnel, and the stigma surrounding mental illness. This results in almost 800,000 deaths by suicide annually. 

The symptoms of depression include: 

  • Fatigue
  • Boredom
  • Inability to experience happiness
  • Sadness, and feelings of emptiness and despair
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal feelings

Traumatic events, such as physical, mental, or sexual abuse, can trigger depressive episodes in some cases, as can bereavement or major life changes. Depression is one of the side effects of different drugs, (such as beta-blockers, interferons or hormonal agents, to name a few). Long-term substance abuse can cause depression as well.

How are depression and substance abuse connected?

The relationship between substance abuse and depression is a two-way street. On one hand, long-term exposure to certain substances, such as alcohol, sedatives, cocaine, amphetamines or painkillers, has been proven to cause depression. On the other hand, people often use said substances to self-medicate.

Drugs and alcohol make them feel good for a short period of time — or at least less bad. But substance abuse also forms a vicious circle. You use substances to feel better. But tomorrow, you have a debt to pay. And you feel bad again. So you take some more. And it goes on. And on. While exact figures vary from study to study, around a third of people suffering from depression are thought to turn to drugs, alcohol, or both.

Hope comes with a diagnosis: 'Now I feel like I used to after three beers — normal'

Hello, my name is Boris Popovic. I'm a veterinarian from Belgrade, Serbia. I'm 31, single, never married, no kids. I enjoy punk rock music, going to soccer games, riding my bike, playing Nintendo, and cooking. Oh, and I also like beer. A lot. When I was 25, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. He died later that year. Five years later, my mom was also diagnosed with cancer. She died later that year. 

Ten years ago, I had a plan for my life. A list of goals I was going to accomplish. The realization that wasn't gonna happen, or at least not that easily, made me feel awful. But that's nothing compared to the fact that the only two people who loved me more than they loved themselves, and who I loved more than anybody, are gone.

I'm never going to watch Formula One races with my dad, while eating cheese and drinking wine, again. I'm never going to go hiking with my mom again. I won't be able to share all the beautiful moments that still wait for me with them, and that makes me feel like I'm alone in the world. Of course, I have a lot of dear friends, who have always been there for me, but, at the end of the day, they all have problems of their own. 

I've always enjoyed beer. But, since I lost my parents, I hated going home straight after work, because it made me feel even more alone. So I started going to the local bar daily. There was always somebody I knew there. Having a few beers and hanging out with them made me forget my situation. 

On the other hand, everything else, save for hanging out at the bar, was such a burden for me. I love my job, but I started resenting certain tasks. My colleagues, who are also really dear friends of mine, noticed that I wasn't OK and picked up my slack, even though they had work of their own.

Paying the bills was often just too hard for me too. I'd need to get up earlier, calculate the amount of money I needed to spend and actually walk to the place to pay them, since I was too lazy to set up an account to pay them online. Writing formal emails was a tough task for me as well. I'd often postpone that till 15 minutes before the deadline, and sometimes I would even be late in my replies.

I felt tired constantly. Too tired to clean the dust or vacuum my place. Too tired to even wash my coffee mug, so I'd have five or six of my mugs piled up on my coffee table for days. I didn't have that problem with the other dishes, though, because I was literally never hungry. I ate from time to time, just because I knew that I needed to.

But there were so many things I was expected to do, so many obligations, and I just wanted to be left alone, drinking beer by the river, smoking my pipe and remembering how happy I was when I was a kid and how beautiful my childhood was. And how everything made sense back then.

Despite being tired all the time, when it was time to go to bed, I couldn't fall asleep. So I figured that drinking myself to sleep worked just fine, since I didn't need to lay awake in the dark, all alone with my memories and thoughts. And, in the morning, if I didn't need to get up early, I would force myself to sleep for as long as I could, because getting out of the bed meant dealing with all the stuff I'd been putting off for days. Such as washing my coffee mug. I knew I was doing a bad thing. I knew I was harming myself, and I felt an awful guilt about it, but it was the easy way out. 

My feelings ranged from being sad for no apparent reason (a scene from a stupid sitcom could trigger crying, and sometimes I'd just start crying for no reason whatsoever), to not feeling anything at all, to feeling guilty for harming myself and not doing anything with my life, to feeling anxious about Mondays, because every Monday meant new tasks at work. The only time I actually felt OK was when I was being left alone, drinking beer. 

So, earlier this year, I had a bizarre accident — I dropped an old cannon ball on my foot, which resulted in two broken bones. While I was at the doctor's, I mentioned how I was feeling, and she made me an appointment with a psychiatrist. That is when I found out that what I was going through wasn't normal grief. I was diagnosed with depression.

I felt better immediately, knowing that my behavior wasn't my fault. I had a medical condition. I got prescribed antidepressants and Xanax, for the anxiety and panic attacks. The doctor didn't explicitly tell me that I needed to quit drinking (even though I mentioned the amounts of alcohol I was downing every day), but I no longer really feel the need to drink beer since the diagnosis.

I feel better. I feel OK. Now I feel how I used to feel after drinking three beers. Normal. I can see a happy ending for me, something I couldn't possibly imagine a few months ago. I know that this is going to be a long process, but just knowing that it's treatable makes me happy that I finally started doing a good thing for myself. Plus, I realized how much money I was spending on booze. Maybe I'll buy a Nintendo Switch for my birthday. I feel like good things are going to happen to me. I only regret not seeking professional help earlier.

I still hang out at the bar with my friends, every day, but I drink lemonade.

PSA: Seek help if you recognize yourself here

Depression is shockingly common — at least seven percent of adults, and probably more, will experience at least one episode in their lifetimes. Because it kind of creeps up on you, you may realize that you're down or going through a hard patch, but not really catch on to the fact that you're dealing with a diagnosable medical problem. 

Like me, you may try to drown your sorrows. You may slip into a deeper depression and add new problems to your existing platter of issues. Here's the thing. Depression is completely treatable. Alcohol and drugs are just not the way out. Don't continue to struggle alone, and tell your family doctor how you feel. A combination of medication and talk therapy may be enough to lift you out. Or, if your substance abuse has turned into a full-blown addiction, you may need treatment for that, too. 

Either way, help is available. The sooner you get it, the sooner things will start looking up. 

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