Depression And Substance Abuse: How Are They Related?

Depression and addiction often go hand-in-hand and can greatly exacerbate each other’s symptoms. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of each in order to understand what causes them and how they can be treated.

Depression And Substance Abuse: How Are They Related?

Clinical depression is much more serious than day-to-day emotions of sadness or disappointment. It can last for years and greatly affect a person’s ability to function.

It affects both mood and behavior, and it can even lead to deterioration in physical health.

The most common comorbidity found in psychiatric patients is mood disorders and alcohol or drug abuse. When these happen simultaneously, it is considered a dual diagnosis.

Depression Types And Symptoms

Depression is a type of mental illness. There are several forms of depression ranging from situational depression, depression episodes, and lifelong clinical depression.

Many factors can contribute to the onset of depression. Sometimes it is set off by a tragic event like losing a family member.

A family history of depression and substance abuse can predispose someone to co-occurring disorders. The link between mental health issues and genetics is more understood every year.

Depression can also be caused by an improper amount of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters or by side effects from medications.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is often referred to as clinical depression. A patient must experience symptoms for a minimum of two weeks before the diagnosis, but they can last for years if untreated.

It is one of the most severe and life-threatening forms of depression. It is characterized by a consistently depressed mood, feeling worthless or hopeless, and thoughts of suicide.

As much as 7% of the population has a major depressive disorder.

Dysthymia Or Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder, formerly known as dysthymia, is a chronic, intermittent form of depression. It is typically not as severe as major depressive disorder but can develop into it.

People experience brief periods without symptoms of depression, but it does not last. People may experience sadness, disruptions in sleep patterns, and a loss of interest in activities.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of major depressive disorder that typically occurs throughout the winter months. A smaller percentage may experience this during summer.

It is caused by low amounts of sunlight during winter and disruption to the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Some theorize that a lack of vitamin D can contribute to low mood.

Some symptoms include persistent exhaustion, weight gain, and mood disruptions.

This form of depression is often treated with light therapy to supplement low light levels.

Atypical Depression

Atypical depression causes people to experience many of the standard depressive episodes with a quick rise in mood after a happy event.

People with atypical depression can experience slightly different symptoms, such as rejection sensitivity, fatigue, and more reactive moods.

The feelings of depression can still be quite intense during a low period of mood.

Why Are Depression And Substance Use Disorder Linked?

Depression can lead to substance use disorder for a myriad of reasons. Genetics, changes in brain patterns, and using substances as a form of self-medication are a few of the risk factors.

Up to 10% of people with depression may attempt suicide in their lifetime. With depression and addiction comorbidity, that risk may be as high as 25%.

One in three people with a form of depression also has a substance use disorder. It is imperative to treat both disorders at the same time for the well-being of the patient.

Understanding The Cycle: Does Depression Cause Substance Abuse?

People with depression are twice as likely to experience addiction as people without any mental health conditions.

While it’s difficult to say whether depression necessarily causes addiction, there are many underlying factors that leave people more vulnerable to substance use.

The feelings of sadness can be very challenging to handle. Drugs and alcohol may provide a short-term numbing effect, but they lead to their own health problems.

A person with depression may use stimulants in an attempt to seek out euphoria and energy, while alcohol abuse can result from trying to escape negative emotions or imitate confidence.

Over time, substance abuse rewires the brain so that the substance of choice is the only thing providing the brain with essential chemicals like dopamine.

Additionally, alcohol and drug use can worsen the symptoms of the co-occurring disorder. The lack of inhibition associated with substances may increase the risk of self-harming behavior.

Signs Of Depression And Addiction

Some of the most common symptoms of depression overlap across all forms of the disorder.

Many people will experience some of these throughout their life during challenging periods, but it becomes a problem when there is no relief from symptoms.

Symptoms of a depressive disorder include:

  • loss of interest in things that once brought joy
  • feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or despair
  • appetite changes
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • isolation from loved ones
  • thoughts or plans of suicide

It can be challenging to diagnose comorbid depression and addiction because many of the symptoms overlap.

Some symptoms of co-occurring disorders include:

  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • memory problems
  • cravings for alcohol or drugs, especially during low moods
  • withdrawal from family and friends
  • reckless behavior
  • defensive behavior when asked about substances
  • withdrawal after substance use

Will Treating Depression Alleviate Substance Cravings?

Recovery from co-occurring mood disorders and substance abuse is possible. Combinations of therapy, medication, and strategies for self-regulating mood or cravings are common treatments.

While depression is typically a lifelong diagnosis, it can be managed with treatment programs so that a person can live a healthy, happy lifestyle.

When the worst symptoms of depression are alleviated, the cravings for substances and escapism can be somewhat alleviated.

Some of the effects of alcohol use disorder or drug addiction, like irritability, can also subside with treatment. This makes depression disorders easier to manage.

However, it’s not guaranteed that resolving depression will resolve the substance use disorder. In fact, researchers have found that one typically can’t be cured without addressing the other.

Treating Co-Occurring Depression And Substance Abuse

It is essential to quit using substances for depression treatments to be effective. Using substances can interfere with recovery, particularly medications.

Mental health professionals will work with each person differently to tailor the best program. Dual diagnosis treatment involves a hybrid of addiction treatment and mental health care.

Medications Used To Treat Depression And Addiction

In the initial stages of treatment, it may be necessary to use medical detox or medications to help with withdrawal symptoms.

Some medications for substance use disorders are:

  • Suboxone
  • methadone
  • naltrexone
  • acamprosate

After a patient has successfully weaned off of substances, providers can help them find antidepressants that work for them.

These may be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Common antidepressant medications include:

Psychotherapy Approaches

The most helpful treatments for someone with depression and a substance use disorder are forms of therapy. These may be group therapy, family therapy, or individual therapy.

One common method of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It focuses on retraining the brain to change patterns of thinking and behavior, and it helps with learning coping skills.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a form of CBT that aims to help the person with suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors by teaching better coping skills.

Mutual support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous provide long-term support through recovery.

Inpatient Treatment For Addiction And Depression

If a person is experiencing severe cases of comorbid disorders and poses a danger to themselves, an inpatient stay at a treatment center may be necessary.

They will receive help through withdrawal, get a personalized treatment plan including therapy or medication, and have a safe space to learn coping mechanisms for the outside world.

This can be greatly beneficial while a person learns to effectively manage their disorder.

Recover From Addiction And Depression

If you or a loved one are experiencing co-occurring depression and substance abuse, you are not alone. Our Massachusetts rehabilitation center can help with substance abuse treatment.

Whether you need inpatient or outpatient care, we can provide recovery that best fits your needs.

Call our facility today to speak to a specialist and learn more about treatment options.

Written by Spring Hill Editorial Team

Published on: September 20, 2022

©2022 Spring Hill Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.

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