While self-medicating depressive disorders with drugs or alcohol is not uncommon, the combination of depression and drug addiction can have severe health consequences.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 21 million adults in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020. Depressive episodes can be debilitating, leaving people feeling hopeless and robbed of joy.
Self-medicating depressive disorders with drugs or alcohol is not uncommon. These substances seemingly relieve symptoms but are harmful in the long run. Substance misuse can cause minor changes in brain function that increase the risk of addiction.
The combination of depression and drug addiction can have severe health consequences. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for both disorders.
What Is Depression?
Everyone experiences brief periods of sadness or “the blues,” but an occasional down mood is not the same as depression. Depression is a mood disorder, also known as major depressive disorder. It is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and many other symptoms.
Depression affects the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. It can also result in different physical problems, including pain.
Types of Depression
There are many types of depression, and each can affect a person differently. They are:
- Major Depressive Disorder: Diagnosed when symptoms cause impairment consistently for at least two weeks
- Persistent Depression: Lasts two years or more, and although symptoms may not be as intense as symptoms of major depression, they are still difficult to cope with
- Manic Depression: An outdated but still commonly used term for bipolar disorder, which includes alternating periods of mania and depression
- Depressive Psychosis: Diagnosed in people with major depression who are experiencing delusions, hallucinations or other forms of psychosis
- Perinatal Depression: Occurs late in the third trimester of pregnancy and is caused by hormonal changes
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: A severe form of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) that includes both physical and psychological symptoms
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): A type of major depressive disorder that occurs with a seasonal pattern, usually in winter
- Situational Depression: Like major depression but caused by a specific event, such as the death of a loved one
- Atypical Depression: Called “atypical” because it may go away temporarily in response to a positive event
If you are concerned you might have depression, speak with your doctor or mental health care professional. They can only accurately diagnose a specific type of depression if you share all of your symptoms, even those you may think are unrelated.
Family mental health history, medications, including supplements and herbs and any other physical or mental health conditions you have experienced should also be disclosed.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Depression symptoms manifest differently for different people and can change with time. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Sadness, feelings of gloom or hopelessness
- Changes in sleep patterns and sleeping too much or too little
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Unexplained pain, such as headache, body aches, backache or digestive problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty making decisions
- A constant feeling of worry or anxiety
- Thoughts of death
- Self-harm or suicide ideation
- Memory problems
Depression symptoms can last weeks or months and can be mild or severe. Even mild symptoms can have a significant impact on your life. Don’t ignore the warning signs of depression, especially if you have a family history of mental health issues, have experienced depressive episodes in the past or have a co-occurring mental health disorder.
Statistics on Substance Abuse and Depression
Substance use disorder and depression have a strong connection. Individuals with a substance use disorder are more likely to experience a different mental health disorder. Additionally, nearly one-third of those diagnosed with major depressive disorder also have a substance use disorder.
Can Depression Cause Addiction?
Many factors influence whether someone will develop an addiction, including genetics, family history and environment. Depression can lead to addiction if the individual begins self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
Self-medicating is using illicit or prescribed drugs or alcohol to cope with mental or physical discomfort. People who self-medicate to alleviate depression symptoms may not realize they have a mental health concern. They are looking for ways to feel better, and self-medicating can offer short-term relief.
However, using any substance, including food, alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs or prescription drugs, can increase a person’s risk of developing additional health problems, make depression symptoms worse and lead to addiction.
Signs you could be self-medicating include:
- You use alcohol or drugs to lift your mood or calm feelings of anxiety.
- Once the effects of drugs or alcohol wear off, your depression feels worse than before.
- You need larger and more frequent doses to find relief.
- You think a lot about drugs or alcohol and ensure you always have access to them.
- Your symptoms are getting worse instead of better.
- Friends and family members have voiced concerns about your drug or alcohol use.
It is easy to transition from occasional self-medicating to a full-blown substance use disorder, especially if you have other risk factors for addiction.
Can Addiction Cause Depression?
Addiction and depression have a bi-directional connection. Addiction can lead to isolation, financial problems, family estrangement, career loss, homelessness and other stressors that could trigger depression.
In addition, drugs and alcohol can affect brain chemistry, changing the brain’s ability to regulate mood, emotion and other mental functions. Some types of substance use can also create a chemical imbalance that may cause depression. The connection between alcohol addiction and depression is an example of this.
Depression in Recovery
Recovering from addiction is an emotional and sometimes joyful or overwhelming experience. As the body detoxes and is no longer under the influence of mood-altering substances, emotions may feel extra intense. Realizing life is changing can be difficult for some recovery patients, as staying healthy often requires giving up friends and family members. Fortunately, feelings of depression and anxiety during withdrawal are treatable.
For those entering recovery with a co-occurring disorder like depression, the good news is that simultaneously treating co-occurring disorders is highly effective. Research suggests integrated treatment — treating both addiction and mental health concerns simultaneously — is the best approach and improves patient outcomes.
How To Help Someone With Drug Addiction and Depression
Helping someone with drug addiction and depression is not easy. The best thing you can do is abstain from judgment and be supportive. Many people are hesitant to ask for help because of the stigmas attached to mental health. People with substance use disorders are often in denial and resistant to treatment.
Formulate a plan before speaking to your friend or family member about depression and addiction recovery. You might consider working with an experienced addiction interventionist or therapist for guidance and support.
Treatment for Co-occurring Substance Abuse and Depression
Several effective treatments for co-occurring substance abuse and depression are available. However, results are not always immediate, and patients must communicate with their healthcare provider to adjust treatments as needed. To fully determine which symptoms are caused by depression and which are related to substance use disorder, the clinician may ask for a psychiatric assessment before recommending a treatment plan.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of psychological therapy for treating co-occurring disorders because it addresses the symptoms of both conditions. Through CBT, patients learn to recognize their negative thought patterns and replace them with positive thoughts and actions. Motivational interviewing, trauma therapy and medications such as Prozac or Zoloft may also be recommended.
Orlando Recovery Center specializes in treating co-occurring conditions. Depression and addiction treatment centers offer comprehensive programs, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and medical detox. If you or a loved one needs addiction and depression treatment, contact us at Orlando Recovery Center. We are ready to help.
Davis, Lori; Uezato, Akihito; Newell, Jason M.; Frazier, Elizabeth. “Major Depression and Comorbid Substance Use Disorders“>Major De[…]Use Disorders.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry, January 21, 2008. Accessed August 5, 2022.
Drake, RE; Mueser, KT; Brunette, MF; McHugo, GJ. “A review of treatments for people with severe mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders.“>A review[…]se disorders.” Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, Spring, 2004. Accessed August 8, 2022.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Major Depression“>Major Depression.” Updated January 2022. Accessed August 5, 2022.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders“>Substanc[…]tal Disorders.” Last Revised March 2021. Accessed August 5, 2022.
Pacek, Lauren; Martins, Silvia; Crum, Rosa. “The Bidirectional Relationships Between Alcohol, Cannabis, Co-occurring Alcohol and Cannabis Use Disorders with Major Depressive Disorder: Results From a National Sample.“>The Bidi[…]ional Sample.” Journal of Affective Disorders, December 2012. Accessed August 12, 2022.
Patel, Raj K.l; Rose, Gregory M. “Persistent Depressive Disorder“>Persiste[…]sive Disorder.” StatPearls Publishing, June 27, 2022. Accessed August 5, 2022.
Turner S, Mota N, Bolton J, Sareen J. “Self-medication with alcohol or drugs for mood and anxiety disorders: A narrative review of the epidemiological literature.“>Self-med[…]l literature.” Depress Anxiety, September 2018. Accessed August 28, 2022. Flynn PM, Brown BS. “Co-occurring disorders in substance abuse treatment: issues and prospects.“>Co-occur[…]nd prospects.” J Subst Abuse Treat, January 2008. Accessed August 28, 2022.
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.