Commonly Co-Occurring: Depression and Substance Abuse

Commonly Co-Occurring: Depression and Substance Abuse

The connection between depression and addiction is complicated. People with mood disorders often battle substance abuse, and vice versa. While depression and addiction are distinct conditions, they frequently co-occur, with each disorder influencing the other and making it worse. People diagnosed with mood disorders are more likely to develop substance abuse issues for various reasons, while drugs and alcohol can sometimes cause depression symptoms.

While the relationship between addiction and depression isn’t fully understood by the scientific community, there are common risk factors that make people more susceptible to a dual diagnosis.

How Common Is Substance Abuse in People With Depression?

A significant proportion of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder also struggle with substance abuse issues. People suffering from mood disorders are more likely to also have a substance use disorder than individuals without any underlying mental health conditions. Studies suggest that about 25% of those diagnosed with depression also had substance abuse problems, with alcohol being the most common drug of choice.

One in five people living with depression has abused alcohol at some point in their lives, while the rate of illicit drug use is slightly lower. Approximately 12% of depressed individuals were found to have abused cannabis, while the misuse of stimulant drugs was lower at approximately 5%. Alcohol use is likely more prevalent due to its effect of numbing negative emotions.

How Substance Abuse Impacts Depression Severity

People diagnosed with depression may turn to substances to self-medicate their emotional pain, feelings of sadness and hopelessness. While drugs or alcohol may provide temporary relief and a brief escape from depressive symptoms, substance abuse creates a vicious cycle of dependency and worsening mood.

Drugs and alcohol may provide temporary relief from symptoms, but they also disrupt the chemical balance in the brain and intensify feelings of hopelessness. Using substances to cope with symptoms can block out emotions, making it hard to fully engage in therapy and address the underlying issues causing depression.

Addiction can contribute to social isolation, deepening feelings of loneliness. Substance abuse can cause financial issues and trouble with the law and strain relationships, contributing to feelings of guilt and shame that make depression even harder to manage.

Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can intensity symptoms and mimic other mental health disorders. This is why it’s common to experience depression after opiate use or during an alcohol hangover. Many people find themselves feeling worse after engaging in substance use than they did before taking any drugs or drinking. For example, since alcohol is a depressant, using it to relieve symptoms of depression is counterintuitive. It might seem to be helping at first, but the way it disrupts neurotransmitters only exacerbates your low mood.

Medications frequently prescribed to treat depression can negatively interact with alcohol and certain drugs. People who drink while taking medications don’t experience the full benefits of treatment but may find side effects intensifying.

The combination of depressive symptoms and the effects of substances can heighten impulsivity and diminish inhibitions. This makes a person more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors and can increase suicidal thoughts and ideation.

The Connection Between Depression and Substance Abuse

Depression and substance abuse share a few overlapping vulnerabilities that may contribute to the development of both conditions. People with depression may struggle to find healthy ways of coping with their emotions and stress, leaving them more vulnerable to using unhealthy mechanisms.

Traumatic experiences, chronic stress and adverse life events such as bereavement or divorce may increase the risk of depression and subsequent substance abuse. People sometimes use substances as a coping mechanism to help them handle upsetting emotions or numb memories related to their trauma. While self-medicating offers temporary relief in the short term, over time, drug and alcohol use make depression symptoms worse.

Depression and addiction have genetic and psychological components that can heighten the chances of developing both conditions. While depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, substance abuse directly affects your neurotransmitters, further disrupting their balance. Withdrawal from substances can also cause symptoms of depression.

Treatment Options for Dual Diagnoses

Treating depression and addiction together offers a better chance of achieving long-term recovery. Integrated treatment for a dual diagnosis can significantly improve the outcome and reduce the risk of relapse. Some treatment options include:

  • Prescribed medication. Antidepressants are often prescribed to alleviate depressive symptoms, while other medications can reduce cravings or manage substance withdrawal symptoms during the recovery process.
  • Individual therapy. Evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are frequently used to address both depression symptoms and addiction.
  • Residential addiction treatment. A substance abuse treatment program, such as detoxification or residential rehabilitation, is often the first step in recovery. Mental health professionals can tailor a treatment plan that tackles both conditions.
  • Peer support groups. Individuals who receive a dual diagnosis are encouraged to take part in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Attending meetings and connecting with others in recovery can help reduce feelings of social isolation.

Recovery Is Possible From Depression and Addiction

Addiction and depression are hard enough to manage individually, but a dual diagnosis can make life even more difficult. Implementing the following strategies can help you overcome depression and achieve freedom from substance abuse.

  • Get professional help. Seek out a treatment program that addresses co-occurring depression and substance abuse. A dual diagnosis requires comprehensive care and tailored interventions targeting both conditions at the same time. Treatment may include a combination of psychotherapy, medications, support groups and plans for relapse prevention.
  • Build a support network. Communicate openly about your struggles with trusted family members, friends and people in a position to offer understanding and encouragement. A reliable support system can be crucial on your journey of recovery from depression and addiction. You can make new sober friends by attending peer-led support groups. If you’re not comfortable engaging in face-to-face meetings, you could try online meetings or join online message boards for those with a dual diagnosis.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes. Getting regular exercise such taking as a short daily walk, getting sufficient sleep and eating healthy can naturally help lift your mood. You can work on reducing stress by practicing mindfulness and meditation.

You don’t need to suffer from depression and substance abuse alone. Our experienced team at Restore Mental Health is available to talk at all hours of the day. Don’t wait to get the treatment you need. Contact us today and start your journey to a healthier and happier you.