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Depression And Substance Abuse

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

June 11, 2019

Depression and addiction are two conditions that often coincide. Many people with depression may drink or use drugs to ease symptoms. On the flip side, people who abuse substances are more susceptible to developing depression. Dual diagnosis treatment is often needed to help overcome these co-occurring disorders.

Depression is a chronic mental illness that affects an estimated 10 percent of the American population. People suffering from depression are at an increased risk of substance abuse. The relationship between addiction and depression is bi-directional, meaning that one condition often triggers the other.

Nearly 33 percent of individuals who have a substance use disorder also experience depression. People who are depressed may turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Conversely, people who abuse substances may experience symptoms of depression as a result of addiction.

Abusing drugs or alcohol can make treatment for depression less effective. Many people struggling with these co-occurring disorders will need to participate in a dual diagnosis treatment program.

Symptoms Of Depression

While many people experience occasional bouts of sadness and grief, clinical depression is characterized by symptoms that last more than two weeks. Depression can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life, including work and health.

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Symptoms of depression may include:

  • loss of interest in activities
  • inability to feel pleasure
  • fatigue
  • changes in appetite
  • feelings of hopelessness and despair
  • difficulty concentrating
  • suicidal ideations
  • lack of sleep or excess need for sleep
  • irritability
  • feelings of worthlessness

Symptoms of depression will vary from person to person. Some people may experience depression as feelings of low energy and extreme sadness, whereas others may become angry and irritable when depressed.

There are several different types of depression.

The most common forms of depression include:

  • Dysthymia — This is a mild yet chronic form of depression in which symptoms can last one to two years.
  • Major DepressionMajor depression is the most common type of depression. This condition is characterized by depressive symptoms that last longer than two weeks.
  • Atypical Depression — Atypical depression is when a person experiences symptoms of depression that are temporarily relieved by positive events.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder — This type of depression is when a person experiences depressive symptoms based on changes in light. Seasonal affective disorder is most common in the winter months.

Depression And Addiction

Depression and substance use disorders are two conditions that commonly coincide. People with depression are more prone to turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with their symptoms. This can leave individuals suffering from depression more vulnerable to developing a substance disorder.

On the other hand, drug and alcohol abuse can contribute to the development of depression. Some substances like alcohol can have effects that mimic the symptoms of depression. People with a substance use disorder can also experience depressive symptoms when not using drugs or alcohol.

Someone who suffers from depression, as well as a substance use disorder, is at an increased risk of the negative side effects of both conditions. Depression can make individuals more susceptible to injury, weakened immune system, and self-harm. Abusing drugs and alcohol while depressed can exacerbate these effects.

Specialized treatment programs that are catered to dual diagnosis can help prevent the negative effects of these conditions.

Depression And Substance Abuse Treatment Options

A comprehensive treatment approach is often recommended for someone struggling with both depression and addiction. Dual diagnosis programs focus on addressing both conditions rather than just one or other.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders like depression and substance use disorders often includes a residential or inpatient treatment program. These programs provide various forms of therapy as well as a number of other types of treatment to help individuals overcome their conditions.

Medication is also commonly used to treat depression as well as some drug or alcohol addictions. Anti-depressants are the most common medication used to treat depression. Individuals may be given additional medications to help cope with drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

To learn more about depression and substance abuse and the treatment options available for these conditions, contact a treatment specialist today.

PSYCOM - Substance Abuse and Depression

Journal of Clinical Psychiatry - Recognition and treatment of depression in a primary care setting

Anxiety and Depression Association of America - Substance Use Disorders

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