Major depressive disorder commonly co-occurs with substance abuse, and both conditions tend to feed off each other and significantly increase the risk of physical and mental harm.

Major depressive disorder commonly co-occurs with substance abuse, and both conditions tend to feed off each other and significantly increase the risk of physical and mental harm. It can be difficult to determine which disorder came first and which was the result of the other, but there usually is a cause-and-effect connection between depression and addiction.

Individuals with addiction may also have depression, and people with depression may be self-medicating via substance use. Individuals may use alcohol or drugs to mask depression and to ignore unpleasant emotions. Sporadic alcohol and drug use can eventually result in addiction, as a person continues to self-medicate. Since addiction and major depressive disorder are linked, any attempts to quit using drugs or alcohol may intensify depression, thus increasing the possibility of a recurrence of substance use.

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Major Depressive Disorder Treatment

Drug addiction is often a hindrance to the treatment of major depressive disorder as drug abuse needs its own, separate treatment. An individual should not receive major depressive disorder treatment but not medical care for their substance use disorder; they must address and treat drug abuse, too. Substance use can exacerbate the course of major depression and make symptoms worse.

For a person that has co-occurring disorders of depression and substance use, stopping all intake of drugs or alcohol or reducing the dosage and frequency can worsen depressive symptoms. Feelings that an individual was trying to conceal with their substance use may surface.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Major Depressive Disorder Symptoms

It is a common belief that substance use can alleviate symptoms of major depressive disorder. While the effects of drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary relief from depressed feelings, consistent substance use can intensify symptoms and lead to a chemical imbalance that creates additional mental health concerns. Alcohol use can increase feelings of unhappiness, guilt or solitude. Marijuana can contribute to depressive symptoms with increased fatigue, lethargy and a reduced ability to focus. Stimulants, such as cocaine, can cause depression from creating chemical imbalances and severe mood swings.

Major Depressive Disorder and Alcohol

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and may trigger symptoms such as fatigue, unhappiness and despair even though it might work as a stimulant at first. When someone drinks alcohol in excess, it can negatively impact a person’s mood and contribute to their feelings of depression.

Alcohol can negatively impact psychotropic medications used to treat depression. Dependence on alcohol can lengthen how long a person suffers from depression.

Major Depressive Disorder and Marijuana

It is unclear if depression triggers marijuana use or if marijuana increases a person’s sensitivity to major depressive disorder. In the short-term, marijuana can lessen symptoms of depression, but symptoms can worsen over time. Also, marijuana has a sedative effect, which can encourage isolation from socialization, thus worsening depressive symptoms.

Major Depressive Disorder and Stimulants

A physician may prescribe stimulants to a patient whose anti-depressant medication is not working to its full capacity. A physician can add a stimulant to work in conjunction with an anti-depressant medication to assist the individual in raising their mood to full capacity.  Stimulants can also be used by themselves to treat depression and are most beneficial for an individual seeking a swift response. However, this poses a potential risk that individuals may take more stimulants than recommended, hoping that larger amounts will make them feel better. Increasing the dosage amount can raise a person’s tolerance, which can lead to a more severe addiction and longer-lasting and more uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as the person attempts to reduce the volume of the medication.

Statistics on Major Depressive Disorder and Drug Abuse

  • About one-third of individuals with major depressive disorder use drugs and alcohol.
  • According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 20 percent of individuals in America with an anxiety or mood disorder also have a substance use disorder.
  • According to the U.S. government’s mental health website, substance use disorder also impacts one in four adults who have a mental illness.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2014, approximately 340,000 adolescents ages 12 through 17 reported having a major depressive episode and a substance use disorder.

Drug Abuse as a Cause for Major Depressive Disorder

The source of drug abuse and major depressive disorder remains a mystery. When substance abuse becomes unmanageable, it can lead to hopelessness, feelings of despair and depression. A person battling addiction may feel that their life will never improve, thus sending them spiraling into a depressed state.

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder with Co-Occurring Substance Use

Treating co-occurring disorders can be challenging, as symptoms of one disorder often have a direct impact on the other. For this reason, it is challenging to inspire recovery in one condition without treating the other. Major depressive disorder and co-occurring substance use disorders must be treated separately and simultaneously so that a physician can address both disorders.

Substance abuse and major depressive disorder are frequently co-occurring, but and they are often the cause or effect of one another. A co-occurring substance abuse disorder hinders major depressive disorder treatment, as another layer of treatment must follow to address both conditions.

If you or a loved one struggle with major depressive disorder in addition to an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please reach out to The Recovery Village to speak to someone regarding your specific circumstances. The Recovery Village can guide you into treatment so that you can overcome the challenges associated with living in pain due to depression and addiction and help you begin recovery.

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Medically Reviewed By – Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
Tracy Smith is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Nationally Certified Counselor, an Approved Clinical Supervisor, and a mental health freelance and ghostwriter. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.