Rumination and substance abuse both relate to anxiety and depression. Learn more about the interaction between rumination and drug abuse.

Rumination is excessive worry without resolution associated with other psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are two types of rumination: brooding and reflective. Brooding rumination is passively thinking excessively about negative feelings and their consequences. Reflective rumination is trying to process the underlying cause, the subsequent consequences and possible solutions to a unique set of problems. Reflective brooding is considered an adaptive or positive response to an ongoing concern. Brooding rumination is more maladaptive and does not resolve easily on its own.

Since depression and anxiety are associated with self-medicating behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse, brooding rumination may also be a trigger for substance abuse.

Effects of Drug Use on Rumination

Episodic drug use likely has minimal impact on rumination whereas chronic drug use increases rumination because it can cause problems that wouldn’t exist without chronic drug use. Alcohol and rumination may be temporary or ongoing depending on the person’s level of alcohol use. Repetitive marijuana use may lead to persistent rumination especially in adolescents who may sustain permanent damage to cognitive function. The brain does not fully develop until a person is 25 years old, making both chronic marijuana and alcohol use in adolescence a particular concern.

A study conducted by researchers in 2010 addressed the relationship between depression, rumination and alcohol use. They demonstrated that rumination was an independent factor for depression and the level of alcohol use, which means that even if someone is not depressed a person who ruminates has an increased risk of alcohol use and abuse. They concluded that targeting rumination with treatment would aid in alcohol abuse treatment.

Statistics on Rumination and Addiction

Identifying direct statistics connecting rumination and addiction is difficult. However, since people with pre-existing anxiety disorders or depression are more likely to experience rumination than those who do not, there may be some correlation between addiction and rumination statistics based on their shared involvement with depression and anxiety.

An estimated 20 percent of adults with anxiety or depression also have substance use disorders. Many people use drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms of anxiety or depression. Those struggling with a mental health condition and substance abuse may experience rumination due to the disorder itself or because they feel guilty and ruminate while they’re self-medicating with substances.

Can Ruminating Thoughts Lead to Substance Abuse?

According to Margaret Wehrenberg, ruminating worsens when people have a depressed or anxious brain because their neural pathways are disrupted or short-circuiting and that makes solution generation difficult. The abnormal brain chemistry involved with depression and anxiety makes it hard to see another perspective, which in turn intensifies the rumination.

The combination of altered brain chemistry due to these disorders and the inability to rid oneself of negative or distracting thoughts can lead to substance use to self-medicate. Partaking in substance use then results in a psychological low that is felt when the substance wears off and reinforces the original depressed or anxious mood.

Treating Rumination and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

People who ruminate are often depressed or anxious. Since people struggling with depression and anxiety may abuse substances to self-medicate, treating these co-occurring conditions may reduce both rumination and substance abuse.

Brooding rumination is associated with a higher chance of self-medication in an attempt to control the negative thought cycle. Treating or controlling rumination could reduce the chance of chronic substance use. Likewise, treating GAD, OCD and depression may lower the risk of both rumination and substance use disorders.

If you or a loved one live with a substance use disorder and co-occurring depression or anxiety that leads to rumination, call The Recovery Village today and speak to a representative who can get you started on the path to a healthier future. With individualized treatment plans, The Recovery Villages addresses substance use disorders and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kim Langdon, MD
Kimberly Langdon, MD is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19 years of clinical experience. She graduated from the Ohio State University College of Medicine, then completed her OB/GYN residency program at the Ohio State University Medical Center. Read more

Adrian, Molly et al. “The internalizing pathway to adolescent […] ruminative brooding.” Journal of adolescence vol. 37,7 (2014): 983-91. August 11, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2019.

Dar KA, Iqbal N. “Worry and Rumination in Generalized Anxi[…] Compulsive Disorder.” Journal of Psychology. December 13, 2014. Accessed March 14, 2019.

Nora D.Volkow et al. “The conception of the ABCD study: From s[…]ad NIH collaboration.” Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Volume 32, August 2018. Accessed March 14, 2019.

Caselli G1, Ferretti C, Leoni M, Rebecchi D, Rovetto F, Spada MM. ”Rumination as a predictor of drinking be[…] a prospective study.” Addiction, June 2010. Accessed March 14, 2019.

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.