Opiates and Depression
Chronic use of opiates and depression are closely linked. Opioid use disorder and depression co-occur in as many as half of all people who abuse opioids. While not indicated for this purpose, opioids for depression are a common form of self-medication. When looking at the relationship between opioids and depression, people may have several questions, including:
- Are the symptoms of depression caused by opioid use?
- Were symptoms of depression present prior to opioid use?
- How do opioid abuse and depression fuel each other?
With more than half of opioid prescriptions being written for people with pre-existing mental health conditions, these questions are more important than ever. Mental health conditions such as depression increase the risk of abusing medications and becoming addicted. However, this group of people is more likely to be prescribed opioid medications than people without mental health conditions.
One study found that people taking opiates for 90 to 180 days had a 25 percent increase in depression. This change in depression increased by 53 percent if opioids were taken for more than 180 days. Another study found that 10 percent of patients prescribed opioids met the criteria for a depressive disorder after being on medication for one month. While the feelings of hopelessness associated with addiction may certainly be a catalyst for developing depression, this study found an increase in depression in people with no history of depression who were taking medication as prescribed. This study, among others, has caused researchers to examine the cause and effect process of depression from opiates. The question being asked by many researchers is “do opiates cause depression, or does the nature of substance use disorders cause depression?”
Researchers investigating opioid depression symptoms have found that opioids cause changes in the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Opioid use produces extreme amounts of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters to be released which causes the drug use to be remembered as a rewarding experience. Continued surges in the release of these neurotransmitters teach the brain to focus on drug seeking rather than other healthier behaviors. When the drugs are removed from the body, these neurotransmitters become depleted and depression sets in. While this change can be reversed over time, the initial effects of brain changes can be very discouraging for people in early recovery.
- Peer support
- Individual counseling
- Medical support during detoxification
- Family education and counseling
- Step-down and transitional services
- Follow-up and on-going support
- Opiates and depression are closely linked.
- Depression is a common symptom of opiate withdrawal.
- Opiates are often used to self-medicate.
- Depression and opiate abuse are treatable.
Whether depression or opioid use comes first, treating depression and co-occurring substance use disorder requires a skilled professional. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition, like depression, help is available at professional centers across the country. The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders. For more information about our care options, reach out to a representative today.
Caruso, C. “Most Opioid Prescriptions Are for People with Depression, Other Mood Disorders.” Scientific American, Publish June 26, 2017. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
Frecska, E., Perenyi, A., & Arato, M. “Blunted prolactin response to fentanyl in depression. Normalizing effect of partial sleep deprivation.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published May 30, 2003. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
Frecska, E. “Prolactin response to fentanyl in depression.” Biological Psychiatry, Published 1989. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
Scherrer, J. F., Salas, J., Bucholz, K. K., Schneider, F. D., Burroughs, T., Copeland, L. A., Lustman, P. J. “New depression diagnosis following prescription of codeine, hydrocodone or oxycodone.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published May 2016. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
Scherrer, J. F., Svrakic, D. M., Freedland, K. E., Chrusciel, T., Balasubramanian, S., Bucholz, K. K., Lawler, E. V., Lustman, P. J. “Prescription opioid analgesics increase the risk of depression.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. “The neurobiology of opioid dependence: implications for treatment.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Published 2002. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
McIntosh, C., & Ritson, B. “Treating depression complicated by substance abuse.” Cambridge University Press, Published 2001. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
Motaghinejad, M., Fatima, S., Banifazl, S., Bangash, M. Y., & Karimian, M. “Study of the effects of controlled morphine administration for treatment of anxiety, depression and cognition impairment in morphine-addicted rats.” Advanced Biomedical Research, Published 2016. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” Retrieved February 8, 2019.
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