Depression is a Drug.

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The Depression Hangover.

I’ve decided that I have a depression hangover. I’ve also decided that that’s a real thing. Even though I’ve just made it up.

You see depression is very much like a drug. It is mind altering and it is addictive. And whilst drugs, in and of themselves are not necessarily bad things, over-reliance on them, and addictions to them are damaging, debilitating, disempowering and dangerous.

Depression is very much like drug addiction. The difference is that it sticks around. Depression, unlike any other drug, refuses to leave your system and offers no high to act as relief.

Depression is like being addicted to the state of drug withdrawal. Any addict who knows that feeling of being incomplete, agitated, guilty and miserable knows what it is to be depressed. They believe they can, and often do, find temporary respite from this feeling by attaining and using their drug of choice—only for it to run out and they have to go through the cycle all over again.

Depression sufferers do not have the respite. They may not have the physical withdrawal and discomforts of the drug addict (although psychosomatic symptoms can be severe for those who make them so), but they also very rarely, if ever, find respite from the mental issues. When I did have a good day, as a depressee (I’ve also decided that that’s also a real thing), I used that as an excuse to make myself feel worse.

What right do I have to have a good day, to feel okay? Here I am, feeling miserable, feeling suicidal, making people worry about me, hating myself and I have the audacity to have a moment where I feel okay. I must be a terrible person, to feel good briefly, when I claim to be depressed. What scum I am, to claim I’m incapacitated by a mental illness and then smile today?

In an instant that good day I had, where the cloud lifted for a few beautiful moments, is gone, transformed into an overpowering guilt. The clouds grow darker than ever and envelop you, literally depressing you back into your hole; your familiar, dark self-loathing hole, and although it’s miserable and hopeless and torrid—it’s your home—you welcome yourself back into it.

Now I have been lucky enough to climb out of that hole. I had a good day, and I stayed out of my miserable homely hole. I stayed out of it for several days. Those first days out of my comfortable, repressive, dark, hopeless hole were, paradoxically, much worse and far less tolerable. I wanted nothing more than to wrap myself up in those dark clouds again, that familiar smothering blanket of misery. But I persevered and before long, the guilt and the darkness stayed in that hole, and I began to climb out.  I’ve been out for two months now…but like a heavy binge I’m now beginning to feel the hangover.

What are the symptoms of a depression hangover?  Well, they are a lot like depression itself. I still hold a healthy contempt for the world and other “happy” people; I still find society and the whole human existence largely pointless, and I still think that I am not [fill in the blank] enough.

(I’ll just stress for clarity at this point that this hole I keep referring to is a metaphorical hole. I know I keep mentioning it, but I don’t want people thinking that I’ve been living in the ground for 10 years—that’s insulting to my parents, university pals, housemates and everyone else whose put me up over the years!) But I have so many thoughts that are a hangover from my time in that hole:

The world’s not kind enough, our politics aren’t spiritual enough, people aren’t aware enough, the public isn’t informed enough. I’m not fit enough, I’m not wise enough, I’m not prolific enough, I’m not forgiving enough, I’m not tolerant enough, I’m not truthful enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not compassionate enough, I’m not brilliant enough.

And that last one should give a clue as to what has changed. The adjective brilliant would never have made it into my thoughts whist in the hole. The thought I’m not “good” enough, sure, that would’ve been there, but brilliant, no, no,no. To not be brilliant enough suggests that we could be slightly brilliant in the first place. And rightly or wrongly, we need to believe we are brilliant. Actually that’s not true. It’s just rightly.

We are brilliant. I am brilliant. Not brilliant enough.

But all of these “not enoughs” are no longer negative sticks with which to beat myself, they’ve become the carrots on the stick, the things that drive me on. It’s great to not be satisfied with who you are. It’s amazing to notice all of your faults and failures. It is satisfying to be dissatisfied!

You’re halfway there when you know the things you don’t like about yourself, when you’ve identified the areas in which you feel you are lacking. My problem with my depression, was not being able to see a purpose, a future for myself. I saw the perceived faults with the world as reasons not to change; I saw them as justifications for my faults. Now I can see that these things are the only reason to carry on—what’s the point in identifying a fault if you don’t intend to change it, or even try to change it.

That’s the reason. The only reason. If you’re not improving, if you’re not changing, if you’re not growing, then you will be depressed. It’s not that being depressed prevents you from changing, growing and improving. Life is an ever-changing expression of what you wish to be, and depression is a both a mirror and a yard stick.

It’s a great tool that we’re misinterpreting. It is universal intelligence communicating with you to help you find your way.

There’s no shame in being depressed; it is a sure sign that you are ready for more in this world.



How Depression Serves Us.


Author: Matt Coates

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Deviant Art

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Matt Coates

Matt Coates is an aspiring writer. Recently recovered sufferer of depression and if he’s being honest,  reformed alcoholic and drug addict. You can reach him at his website here.


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anonymous Aug 13, 2015 6:22am

Thank you for articulating what I’d been thinking for a while now.

Awareness. Awareness of all these things which, when combined, take the form of depression – and yes, it is indeed addictive. When there, I want to wallow while pretending I’m not.

No medication for 3 months (under therapist & Dr guidance), just working the tools that I’ve found along this spiritual journey and facing things with as much rigorous honesty as I can musty – including admitting, because I can and because of this new-found awareness, that depression has come to visit.

And today I can recognize it for what it is, acknowledge and even embrace it, but not let it take up residence. In time, and these periods are getting shorter, it leaves of its own accord.

Again, thank you for finding the words that eluded me.

anonymous Aug 12, 2015 2:56pm

I’ve been out of “the hole” for four years now and I still feel hungover. I keep moving forward, but with that constant fear that I might just never be good enough. Very well articulated column.

anonymous Aug 12, 2015 6:34am

I have suffered bouts of depression and been suicidal. I have also been addicted to alcohol and food. Mindfulness meditation has taught me that my own depression (I agree it is a different experience for everyone) is an identification with certain types of thoughts. I get into a spiral of certain types of thoughts and then I identify with them. I believe they are mine and therefore create my identity and define me. Believing in my depressive thoughts is what makes me feel depressed, ie believing they are true. But I am capable of many other thought patterns. Why is it that I choose to identify with the depressive ones most? I absolutely agree that it is a form of addiction to certain thought patterns and mental /emotional habits. Something in me feels comfortable with the spiraling down. It's easier to keep drinking than enforce the self-discipline of not taking another drink. It's easier to give in to the depressive mental spiral than be disciplined enough to stop the habitual thought pattern and not believe it's contents. Now when I have depressive thoughts I acknowledge them as such: I am having a depressive thought, but that thought does not define me and it is not a reflection of any reality beyond itself as a fleeting mental occurrence. If an addiction is an attatchment to a certain type of behavior or activity, I agree that depression could be seen as an attatchment to certain types of mental patterns.

anonymous Aug 12, 2015 1:58am

"There’s no shame in being depressed; it is a sure sign that you are ready for more in this world." <– is what my depression taught me.

anonymous Mar 28, 2015 3:37am

Yes i completely agree with this, depressions is such a big problem it can really lead to various kinds of disorders. It's definitely equal to a drug. I suggest to take the most medicinal herb kratom to cure depression. It can really reduce this problem.

anonymous Feb 18, 2015 8:23am

Hi Matt. As I was reading the article, I recognized your description as chronic shame more than depression. I do think we can become "addicted" or at least enamored with self-deprecation and the freeing of ourselves from a habit like that, really can galvanize us to be much for fierce in our care for ourselves and our motivation to claim a more vital life.

I appreciate the conversation that your article has provoked. I hope it doesn't trigger your shame.

anonymous Feb 18, 2015 7:47am

As someone who has dealt with Major Depression most of my life, I find little that rings true in this article.

anonymous Feb 17, 2015 3:40pm

Depression is an addiction in the way it acts on the brain. Each depressive thought re wiring the brain’s neural pathways for more of the same, making that neural pathway ingrained exactly as an addictive behaviour is. I tried everything…drink, drugs, food, therapy, meds…what worked eventually was neuro linguistic programming. ..breaking the depressive neural pathway and re wiring my brain to be happy. Something I thought impossible, and that three generations of mental illness precluded. Not so!

anonymous Feb 17, 2015 3:05am

I thought this was a very interesting article and it applies perfectly to someone I care about going through exactly what you are describing. In fact I will be showing them this article. I think it may help them reevaluate their situation. Was major depression mentioned in the article or just depression? I am not medically trained so I can tell you only from my own personal experiences that some people do slip into a rut, find it difficult to see a positive future and continue to dwell on life in a negative way getting more and more depressed as time passes. It is difficult to get out of that hole for some, especially if they have been isolating themselves from people and society,but it can be done. Thank you for your article. Very interesting read, especially for the new wave of people depressed and feeling hopeless having job losses during this hard economic time. Never give up.x

anonymous Feb 17, 2015 1:05am

I’m afraid you would be hard-pressed to find mental health professionals who would agree that depression is akin to addiction. I don’t believe anyone with major, debilitating depression would agree either. Major depression has no redeeming qualities. None. Perhaps a mild or moderate depression might indicate a need for a change in one’s life, but certainly not major depression.

Major depression engulfs its victims in a disease in which every moment is unbearable. The ability to thoughtfully think through one’s problems is absent. You said that you would “back into your hole; your familiar, dark self-loathing hole, and although it’s miserable and hopeless and torrid—it’s your home—you welcome yourself back into it.”

No one with major depression considers the experience as a home or something they would welcome themselves back into. It is 100 percent hell. Maybe someone who has some dissatisfaction with life and is not motivated to work on it might back into it. Perhaps someone who is feeling sorry for himself might do so. But if you are talking about the diagnosis of major depression, that phenomenon does not exist. These people are very, very ill, far beyond the understanding of those who have not experienced it.

Comparing major depression with addiction turns reality upside down. It may be your story, but it doesn’t apply to people with major depression.

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 7:20pm

Let me first state that I’m happy more and more articles about peoples experiences of depression are surfacing and creating dialogue. That is a wonderful thing. But may I propose that peoples experience of depression varies greatly. Just like with pain scales–one persons experience of level 6 pain varies greatly depending on the individual. Varying between dysthymia and a major depressive disorder that leads to suicide. The tone that depression is a CHOICE is very irresponsible. When I have good joyful days I NEVER crave the return of depression. I am running around contacting friends and taking care of household things that I don’t have the energy for while I’m depressed. I make every moment count and not a second of that time is spent missing the depression. If I could have it be a permanent part of my past I would in an instant. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars attacking it from every angle. Therapy, drugs, juicing, removal of mercury tooth fillings, supplements, foods, cryotherapy, massage, salt lamps, essential oils, yoga, meditation, countless books and articles…everything short of shock therapy. I have put a significant amount of effort into combating the blues. My brother committed suicide so taking care of my mental health is my top priority. There is a huge difference between someone having a temporary depressive episode such as after a death or divorce and major depression. Situational vs. long term depression. There is a difference between sadness and being in so much emotional pain and suffering that you take your life as the only way out. When you present major depression as a choice made by someone who craves the darkness and suffering it’s really a slap in the face to those experiencing that soul pain. I think addiction is a beast all its own and how can you discern the symptoms between the two illnesses? Someone who is an addict really has no clue what depression is like for someone without addiction. There are some clear polar opposite reactions to this article and I think its safe to recognize that multiple experiences cannot be linked together as a centralized theme for depression.

    anonymous Aug 25, 2015 12:20pm

    Beautifully written, great explanation, thank you

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 6:45pm

“It’s a great tool that we’re misinterpreting. It is universal intelligence communicating with you to help you find your way.”

This is nice to say, but falls flat when compared to the reality. I trudged my feet through depression for years, day in and day out, and there is nothing romantic about it. To say that it is like a drug addiction would be to say that diabetes is like a drug addiction. It is a disease that requires concrete medical steps to manage. I feel that statements such as this only add to the guilt of spiritual minded people who suffer from this affliction. Discontent and passing depression, or existential pondering are great tools of the universe to wake us up. Real depression is in fact hell on Earth, and anyone who claims it is somehow beneficial has not fully experienced it. If you want the gritty truth, look up my article Prozac Yogi.

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 5:23pm


wow – i see some really good writing coming from this on-line elephantjournal site and u r no exception!

So, your “public persona” is that of a person in recovery and you promote your ideas about how to “get on with life”, to move from surviving to thriving? Hmmm interesting . . .

Myself, I have worked through much recovery and I have worked hard to improve my life skills. For over two decades I have been growing and learning through my persona of therapist-healer-social worker. I worked hard to master life skills and understand emotional dysregulation . . .

In the agency where I work they’ve asked I take on a position of “addictions specialist”. My predecessors all had special certificates so I sometimes wonder if I have “the right stuff” to help “so-called addicts”.

Perhaps you would be so kind as to share some knowledge and wisdom about your own personal journey as a “spiritual guide” in recovery. I would love to learn more about ways you feel are effective in helping a person overcome an “addiction to depression”.

Look forward to reading more from you.

doo ann le roi

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 2:47pm

Stunningly beautiful and horrifically accurate. Thank you for sharing.

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 2:37pm

Yes, yes, and yes. The sense of powerlessness can play a great role. I've been in all kinds of therapy since late teens, and on all kinds of medication, and not once has anyone been able to offer me tools or offer me any insight about what I was dealing with and how I could work with it. I'm almost thirty, and I've finally worked my way to see and understand my addictions, including depression, and it's a shame that psychiatry and psychotherapy disarms you instead of empowering you.

    anonymous Feb 18, 2015 8:03am

    Hi Eliza

    I am a trainee psychotherapist and just wondered if you would mind sharing what it was that disarmed you?


    anonymous Feb 18, 2015 11:56am

    I politely disagree with your comment "psychiatry and psychotherapy disarms you instead of empowering you" though I am sorry that was your experience. Psychotherapy saved me in many ways. My guess is you weren't paired with the "right one." There are many different types and finding a fit takes diligence and strength. And yes, a lot of frustration. But aren't you worth it? Best wishes.

anonymous Feb 16, 2015 2:32pm

Beautifully and gracefully written.

anonymous Feb 19, 2015 12:29pm

one thing is sure, we need external support 😉