Depression and Substance Abuse

There is a clear, prevalent connection between substance abuse and mood disorders.

Studies show that those who struggle with mental health disorders are twice as likely to begin using drugs or alcohol as compared to those without mental health conditions. Conversely, substance abuse is known to cause mental health conditions to develop.

While it is clear that there is a link between addiction and mental health, it is not always clear which problem surfaced first.

In some cases, a person may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with symptoms of depression. Self-medicating for symptoms of mental health disorders is a prominent influence in the development of addiction. While this may provide temporary relief, it often exacerbates symptoms, cause more problems to develop further down the line, and require dual-diagnosis treatment. For others, depression can develop as substance abuse negatively impacts their life. Continued use of drugs or alcohol can decrease overall quality of life. This may lead to the development of depression as well.

Is it Depression? Or Something Else?

Depression is a term thrown around loosely which can make it difficult to differentiate between legitimate depression and just having a bad day. Everyone has bad days and problems in relationships, home life, work, and other factors can all influence mood. 

The difference, however, between depression and a bad day, is that when someone has a bad day, they can often bounce back from it. Things can make them happy and their mood can improve through the passing of time. For those with depression, the lows they experience do not easily pass and can cause crippling side effects for extended periods of time.

Many people go through periods of time where they feel sad and struggle with grief, frustration, or anxiety. These are generally temporary experiences that go away over time. Depression often lasts for more than two weeks and impairs a person’s ability to manage their work, relationships, and other responsibilities or obligations. It can also lead to the need for professional help.

Depression and Substance Abuse

Symptoms of Depression

 Those with depression will experience at least five of the following symptoms simultaneously on a daily basis:

  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Loss of energy
  • Aches and pains
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt
  • A sense of worthlessness
  • Disruptions to sleep patterns
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interests in activities they once enjoyed
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Some people without depression may experience long periods of sadness, but they can generally point to an experience or event that they can link to it. The loss of a loved one, losing a job, or the end of the relationship can cause a person to experience long periods of sadness and grief, but in most cases, a person can reach some type of resolution with their feelings. In those who are clinically depressed, they may be unable to connect the dots and find basic daily tasks to be a struggle. Their mood may feel insurmountable and permanent with no clear ending in sight. This may lead them to use drugs or alcohol to escape feelings that overwhelm them.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

Types of Depression


There are various forms of depression that can manifest in numerous ways. The cause of its development can play a role in the duration and severity of depression. While depression works more along the lines of spectrum rather than as clearly defined categories, there are forms of depression that have several common threads. While these are all under the general umbrella of ‘depression’, they often develop due to a specific set of circumstances.

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): MDD is one of the most commonly experienced forms of depression. This is characterized by a person experiencing at least two weeks of a depressed mood along with several of the above-mentioned symptoms of depression.
  • Persistent or Dysthymic Disorder: Also known as dysthymic disorder, the persistent variant of depression is marked by depressive symptoms that last for two or more years. Symptoms of persistent depression may not be as severe as the major form, but they can just as severely impact a person’s quality of life.
  • Bipolar Depression: This form of depression can be difficult to identify without tracking a person’s mood over an extended period of time. Many people with bipolar disorder experience episodes of extreme elation and major depressive episodes. These episodes can last for months at a time and often last longer than episodes of high energy and elevated mood.
  • Post-partum Depression: Many new mothers struggle with the life-altering experience of having a baby. Women who have inadequate support, a history of depression or anxiety, or those who are under financial or personal stress may be prone to developing post-partum depression. Hormonal imbalances, nutrition, and other changes can also influence its development.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): SAD is often caused by changes in light and temperature throughout the year. Many people report experiencing decreased energy, sleep disturbances, poor mood, and weight changes during the year. While most suffer with this during the winter months, some may experience this transitioning from winter to spring.
  • Psychotic Depression: This form of depression is characterized by a person experiencing hallucinations and delusional thoughts. They may fear they are being pursued by others or believe entities are telling them to cause harm to themselves. Psychosis is usually temporary, but it may require hospitalization and treatment to protect the person from themselves.

    Dual-Diagnosis Treatment for Depression and Substance Abuse

    In order to effectively treat addiction and depression, the two must be addressed simultaneously. 

    Suddenly ceasing use of drugs or alcohol can worsen symptoms of depression. If these symptoms are not addressed, it can often cause a person to relapse and begin abusing substances again.

    Dual-diagnosis treatment ensures both the addiction and the mental health disorder are given ample attention in recovery. Dual-diagnosis programs are multi-faceted and designed to address numerous needs throughout the recovery process.

      They help clients by:

      • Identifying the underlying causes/influences in the development of depression
      • Teaching the client how to work through their recovery
      • Helping the client make changes to support sobriety
      • Guiding clients through methods of coping with negative thoughts or feelings
      • Developing life skills to support sobriety and independence

      It is not uncommon for those in addiction recovery with depression to use medications throughout the recovery process. For some, it is the only way they can obtain the clarity of mind needed to achieve sobriety. Antidepressants can help many cope with symptoms of depression and lead them towards more stability in their lives.

      Dual-diagnosis treatment relies on a combination of treatment approaches to improve outcomes in recovery. Medication-assisted treatment, therapy (both individual and group), the development of life skills, and other forms of treatment can provide a strong foundation to support a sober lifestyle.

      If you or a loved one are suffering from depression and/or substance abuse, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

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