The relationship between depression and addiction is bidirectional. Individuals who live with depression experience an increased chance of having substance use problems and people with addiction put themselves at risk for depression.
Many people with depression drink or abuse drugs to boost their mood or escape feelings of guilt or misery. However, alcohol and other substances with depressant properties can escalate sadness or lethargy. Using substances to alter negative feelings can become a cycle, hindering someone’s ability to obtain successful treatment for depression.
Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Depression Treatment
Mental health patients who have a co-occurring substance use disorder and depression typically receive specialized individual treatment to manage both disorders to increase the effectiveness of rehab and improve their symptoms.
If someone with depression seeks treatments for mental illness, such as medication and therapy, but has noticed that drinking numbs their feelings, they may be inclined to continue to engage in substance use and avoid evidence-based treatment for depression.
This scenario is common and may cause two different negative outcomes for patients already seeking treatment:
- The patient might think their recreational substance use is working better than therapy and medicine, halting their therapy visits and other prescribed treatment
- The substance abuse will create other symptoms of depression, making it difficult to treat the individual without first completing a detox program
The complex symptoms of both the depression and substance use may require a comprehensive treatment program to achieve and maintain long-term recovery.
Effects of Substance Abuse on Depression Symptoms
Drinking or using illicit drugs to wind down each day may lead an individual to believe that their symptoms are improving. Instead, they could be creating more health problems. Reaching for drugs or alcohol to lift spirits can cause symptoms of depression and substance abuse to worsen.
Depression poses risks like accidental injury, self-harm, suppressed immune system and weakened body, making people more susceptible to physical illness. When a mental illness occurs alongside drug or alcohol use, risks to their physical and emotional health increase exponentially.
However, specialized treatment programs can help an individual to avoid the devastating effects of depression and substance abuse and allow them to create a healthy, fulfilling and sober life.
Statistics on Depression and Drug Abuse
A report by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 1 in every 3 adults with drug or alcohol problems also deals with depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 20 percent of Americans with anxiety or depression also have a substance use disorder, and about 1 in 5 percent of people with a substance abuse problem also have an anxiety or depression disorder.
Depression and Alcohol
Using alcohol to reduce stressful life events, like losing a job, is common. Whether to forget the pain, feel indestructible or pity themselves, individuals may look to alcohol to solve their problems. Alcohol may help to relax the physical body and seemingly relieve stress, but the lingering effects of alcohol can be detrimental to brain chemistry and lead to long-term health problems.
Does drinking cause depression? Does depression result in alcohol problems? There is a strong link between severe alcohol use and depression. According to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly one-third of individuals with an alcohol dependence also had a mood disorder, like depression.
Drinking can exacerbate depression. People who drink excessively typically experience more frequent and severe occurrences of depression and are more likely to contemplate suicide. Heavy alcohol use can also hinder the effectiveness of prescription antidepressants.
Marijuana Abuse and Depression
Marijuana is widely known for its euphoric effects. But the drug can create health problems for individuals with depression.
Also known as cannabis, marijuana naturally produces chemical compounds that affect motor control, cognition, emotions and behavior. While the drug may temporarily ease symptoms of depression, cannabis can cause an individual to experience negative emotions, like sadness, once their high subsidies.
Marijuana use, especially heavy use, has been linked to anxiety and depression. Extended marijuana use can result in a substance use disorder.
Depression and Stimulants
Like marijuana, stimulants are known to promote symptoms of depression. Since many individuals who have depression also have histories of trauma, stimulant use can activate complex reactions for them. This trauma may increase the cravings for stimulants, and that can be especially challenging for people with depression.
Many stimulants, like cocaine, are additive illicit substances that can create havoc in an individual’s life. Stimulants may not relax the individual, but it can cause short-term happiness and energy. Once the high fades, an individual can feel depressed and they may use more stimulants to return to their blissful state of mind. This cycle can lead to drug addiction, it can interfere with the individual’s personal life, and it can keep them from getting the proper treatment needed to recover completely.
Six of the most commonly used stimulants for individuals with depression include:
- Prescription stimulants, like Adderall
- Synthetic stimulants, like bath salts
These substances are associated with changes to brain chemistry that can lead to more negative outcomes for people with depression and other mood disorders.
Drug Abuse as a Cause of Depression
Alcohol and drug addiction can cause mental illness by changing the chemical balance in the brain. If a mental health specialist does not diagnose and treat a mental illness quickly, the mental illness can encourage the use of alcohol and drugs.
Addiction can become a dangerous cycle once it begins. While it is not uncommon to have a drink occasionally, persistent drinking can change the brain, increasing a person’s tolerance to alcohol and causing them to compulsively seek the substance.
If an individual adapts to the effects of drugs or alcohol, they may not be satisfied with the feeling of being sober. This feeling often leads to more frequent use so that they can feel that high more often. Over time, substance use may lead to depression or other mental illnesses that will need treatment.
Treatments for Depression with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders
Patients with untreated, or ill-treated, mental health disorders might turn to substance use to temporarily soothe or self-medicate their symptoms. But alcohol and drugs can cause symptoms of depression in people with a substance use disorder.
As with other co-occurring disorders, substance abuse and depression can complicate each other. If just one disorder is treated, it is likely that a recurrence of use will occur if the depression returns. Also, if an individual only treats the depression, their addiction can cause the depression to return.
To effectively recover, individuals may need to seek treatment for both issues simultaneously. A treatment plan that focuses on both issues may allow the patient to recover from both disorders effectively.
If you are or a loved one needs help or assistance in treatment, The Recovery Village can help. People who have co-occurring disorders that involve addiction and depression can receive help from one of the facilities located throughout the country. To learn more, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.