‘Sober’ No More: Demi Lovato’s Struggle with Addiction and Depression

Premier Health Now

Thankfully, singer Demi Lovato survived an apparent drug overdose after she was reportedly revived at her Los Angeles home. Lovato has been open about her struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues, including an eating disorder and bipolar disorder, with its manic and depressive episodes. In fact, her hospitalization comes just a month after Lovato released the song “Sober,” revealing that she had relapsed.

To understand the link between depression and addiction, Premier Health Now consulted Stephen Liptak, PsyD, Upper Valley Outpatient Behavioral Health. He explains that addictions can be chemical (drugs and alcohol, or sugar), or activity-based (overeating, shopping, gaming or social media). “Anything that activates the pleasure centers in the brain can be every bit as intense and powerful as a chemical,” Dr. Liptak says.

“Many individuals who become depressed will use substances to self-medicate in order to feel better,” Dr. Liptak says. “A lot of us do this. What person when feeling down, hasn’t reached for a piece of chocolate or had a drink at the end of a long day?”

When someone is depressed, using addictive substances such as drugs or alcohol can lead to further problems. That’s because drugs and alcohol are depressive agents that act on the central nervous system, says Dr. Liptak. “So you end up chasing your tail,” he says.

Which comes first — addiction or depression — may vary between women and men. In men, addictive behaviors tend to develop first, followed by depression. In women, it’s the opposite. Women are more likely to experience depression first, followed by an addiction. Shopping addictions and eating disorders also are more common in women than in men, Dr. Liptak says. “We see a lot of women developing eating disorders after a depressive episode,” he says.

Treatments for addiction and depression vary, but the best outcomes can be achieved when both conditions are addressed using a combination of methods, including medicines, psychotherapy, detoxification and inpatient rehabilitation. Research shows that medicines and therapy can help patients feel better and find alternatives to their addictive behaviors, says Dr. Liptak. He makes a point to ask patients what they get out of their substance use or other addictive behavior.

“Good therapy helps you explore why you chose it and what it does for you,” Dr. Liptak says. Someone might find that drugs or alcohol helps them feel normal or allows them to tolerate the boredom of being at work or sitting in class all day. “When you understand the motivation,” says Dr. Liptak, “you can find ways to cope without creating other problems in your life.”