Depression and substance abuse disorders have a long history of correlation. Understanding the basis behind these co-occurring disorders is important to discover a path to recovery.

Depression and substance abuse often go hand in hand. Turning to drugs or alcohol to escape negative feelings or improve a bad mood can develop into an addiction that requires recovery treatment to overcome.

Understanding Depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression, affects up to 10 percent of adults in the United States. This mental health condition causes a person to feel exhausted, disinterested, and upset for long periods. A depressive episode is not a matter of being temporarily saddened by a specific event. A depressive episode is when a person has a depressed mood and problems with sleep, eating, concentrating, and self-worth for more than two weeks.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Depression

About 25 percent of adults who have a mental illness like depression also have issues with substance abuse. Some people with depression start using drugs or alcohol to cope with the condition. However, some who struggle with drug addiction can also become depressed. When patients have both conditions at the same time, it is common for both disorders to reinforce one another and become worse. Some people who have multiple mental health conditions may find that their additional diagnoses worsen as depression and substance use increase.

Mental Illnesses Connected With Depression and Addiction

Survey data suggests that 7.9 million American adults have multiple mental health conditions. Many people with major depressive disorder also struggle with an anxiety disorder. Some research indicates that up to 60 percent of people with anxiety disorders also struggle with clinical depression. People who have anxiety are also more likely to develop substance abuse problems, especially if they already have depression and related mental illnesses.

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Drug Abuse Interferes With Depression Therapy

It is difficult to tell the difference between psychological symptoms related to depression and the signs of substance abuse disorders. Often, only one condition is diagnosed despite the need to treat both disorders, both complex conditions that require specific treatment methods.

The fact that patients frequently have a third or even a fourth mental health condition might only increase the treatment process’s challenges. Psychologists and other healthcare professionals may suggest a treatment plan that includes medication such as a benzodiazepine. However, some medications can interact negatively with alcohol and other substances or even be highly addictive, making a person’s substance use worse.

Substance Addictions Worsen Depression

Taking addictive substances can cause disruptions in a patient’s brain chemistry. However, depression itself is often caused by brain chemistry abnormalities.

Though scientists don’t fully understand the brain chemistry of depression, it seems reduced serotonin levels are present in people with major depressive disorder. Alcohol consumption can also potentially reduce a person’s serotonin levels. So, while alcohol may make a person feel happier, it has an opposite effect on the brain by decreasing serotonin, which is necessary to regulate mood, happiness, and anxiety.

Drugs and alcohol offer a person temporary feelings of euphoria that partly mask the symptoms associated with depression. Once the brief mood elevation has passed, symptoms of depression can be worse. Because these substances do not address the real source of depression, they can cause anxiety and other brain chemistry problems.

Becoming Depressed As a Result of a Substance Abuse Disorder

When patients have more than a single mental condition, figuring out which one appeared first is not always easy. Some patients may be able to work out an exact timetable. Other people might not be clear on exactly how their problems started. However, the process of recovering from a substance abuse disorder in the first place can make a patient feel depressed.

Depression and Different Drug Addictions

An estimated 16.5 percent of the patients with major depression also have alcohol problems. It is slightly more common for clinical depression sufferers to have substance abuse problems, which occur in 18 percent of depression patients. Of course, there are depression patients who are also dependent on both alcohol and other drugs.

What substance is being used isn’t as important because the underlying problem is often the same. Addressing the co-occurring disorders of depression and substance use disorder is vital to begin a life of recovery.

Are you or a loved one suffering from depression as well as a substance abuse disorder? You are not alone. We are here for you, and we are here to help.