Answers for My Depressed and Addicted Daughter

This is a good read and mothers of those who struggle with addiction might relate to it. An increasing number of adolescents are being diagnosed with depression, and that drug abuse is a typical way of self-medicating depressed feelings.

I’m not depressed, nor is my spouse. In fact, there’s no known history of depression in my family. Nor does any family member abuse drugs of any kind. Yet my 16 year-old daughter was just diagnosed with clinical depression and cocaine addiction; she’s started taking medication.

How did this happen? Everything I’ve read about depression says that it runs in families, primarily through the female line. Jessamine doesn’t understand it either; she feels like she did something wrong, that’s it’s her own fault. She thinks she’s a “mutant.” What do I tell her? How do I convince her?

I was shocked to learn that this wonderful young girl of mine has been using cocaine since she was 14 years old. She said that this stimulant drug helped her feel less depressed, with more energy to keep up with her schoolwork and social activities. She bought the drug from a high school senior who’s known widely among kids as a “good drug dealer” who will get them anything they want.

Jess has a good doctor; he tells her the truth about her depression and the anti-depressant he recommended for her. On his advice, Jess agreed to see a therapist; he told her that medication can do its job better when combined with therapy to talk about what’s bothering her. He also talked with her about treatment for cocaine addiction. I went with her to her first appointment, but stayed in the waiting area to give her some privacy. Sitting there, I found some brochures about depression and addiction and brought them home to help me learn more about this. To help me figure out how to help her. If I couldn’t shield her against these problems, maybe at least I can help her work through them.

An increasing number of adolescents are being diagnosed with depression, and that drug abuse is a typical way of self-medicating depressed feelings.

Depression’s Connection to Drug Abuse and Addiction

So far, I’ve learned that in the past few years, an increasing number of adolescents are being diagnosed with depression, and that drug abuse is a typical way of self-medicating depressed feelings. It’s about stress, mostly; the stress of having to make extremely competitive grades to get into a good college. Plus the required extra-curricular activities like sports, debate, student government, and academic clubs. Then, there’s the peer pressure to be part of the “right” circle of friends, to date only the most popular guys in school. I didn’t realize, before I read about it, how much pressure life places onto kids these days. My spouse and I have had our problems; we’ve been separated twice and Jess had to deal with this, too. I think we must have made her feel that she had to take sides with one of us. Maybe this depression is partly my fault.

I also read that sometimes depression skips a generation, or just spontaneously appears when there’s no family history at all, like with Jessamine. I understand now that depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. They send messages to the brain about mood, appetite, and sleep; these are all things that are connected with the symptoms of depression. When these chemicals get out of balance, depression is usually the result. Anti-depressants restore the necessary chemical balance to help symptoms ease.

I wonder why Jess also needs therapy if these pills cure depression. Thinking it over, perhaps she also needs help learning how to cope with all the stress in her life. It must be hard for her to talk openly with a parent or a friend, so I’m glad she has someone, even a stranger if that’s what it takes. I read that sometimes a stressful life event can kick brain chemistry out of balance enough to cause depression. A few months ago Jess was way too upset about not making the first-string soccer team, and then breaking up with her boyfriend a week later. She cried every day for nearly a week, and then got very quiet and withdrawn. Was that what triggered this depression? Was her brain chemistry already leaning in that direction, vulnerable to emotional upset to kick them over the edge?

I’m going to ask Jess if the two of us can talk about this with her therapist to finally get some answers to these mysterious questions. I also need to know much more about Jess’s cocaine addiction and how it can be resolved. When we understand more about what causes adolescent depression and addiction, even in kids who have no family history, maybe we can stop blaming ourselves.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that depression can strike anyone, regardless of age or genetic history. It’s never too early to start learning stress management skills and setting priorities about what’s really important in our lives.

There’s nothing, no one, more important to me than my daughter.