How Are Depression and Addiction Related?
Depression and addiction are often linked. Learn about the details, causes, and treatment options.
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Depression and addiction are frequently linked. Often, this is due to the tendency to self-medicate as a way to alleviate symptoms. Self-medicating may result from societal stigmas surrounding mental health, particularly in certain demographics, as well as a widespread lack of access to quality healthcare.
Mental health conditions cannot be cured, fixed, or alleviated with drugs or alcohol of any kind. While these methods of self-treatment may seem to temporarily help, they only serve to cause more significant problems in the long term.
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is one of the most common mental health conditions affecting Americans today. Nearly one in fifteen adults will experience depression each year, and 16% of people will experience depression in their lifetimes.1
Depression can also be inherited—nearly 40% of children with one or more parents with depression will develop it themselves. Older teens and young adults have the highest rates of depression, and it affects women more often than men.1
What Is Depression?
Depression is a severe mood disorder that impacts how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. When left untreated, depression can change the chemistry of a person’s brain, possibly leading to several other mental and physical health conditions.
It is important to understand that depression is more than simply feeling sad or down. For example, when people experience a loss, particularly a severe one, it is common to undergo a grieving process. The difference is that while the grieving process is normal, it is temporary.
Sadness and grief occur in stages, typically interspersed with happy memories and periods of time when the sadness is not present.
In depression, the feeling of sadness doesn’t go away. It constantly lingers for a period of at least two weeks to several months. As a result, a person may begin to question their self-worth or believe that there is something wrong with them that is getting in the way of their happiness. This can cause feelings of self-loathing, anger, and frustration, which can cause depression to worsen.
Types of Depressive Disorders
There are many different types of depressive disorders, some more common than others. The most common include:3
- Bipolar disorder
- Major depression disorder
- Atypical depression disorder
- Postpartum depression
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
It is also important to note that many other forms of mental illness may present with symptoms of depression, such as anxiety.
How Are Depression and Addiction Related?
Untreated depression leading to drug abuse is unfortunately common. For this reason, many treatment centers focus on treating depression and addiction. Depression and substance abuse disorder are frequently comorbid conditions because one could commonly result from the other.
Relationship Between Depression and Substance Abuse
The cycle of substance abuse and depression feed off one another. Depression may cause the act of self-medicating through substances—substance abuse may cause depressive symptoms. This cycle usually continues to repeat until a person seeks help or gets hospitalized.
Common Risk Factors
There are several triggers that can cause depression and substance abuse, including:
- Major events
- Societal stigmas
- Certain medications
- Illicit substance abuse
- Serious physical illness
- Adverse childhood experiences
There is no single definitive cause or reason as to why some people are diagnosed with depression while others in similar situations do not exhibit symptoms. In addition, not everyone who is diagnosed with depression will experience substance abuse.4
Depression and Substance Abuse
Self-medicating depression with alcohol, marijuana, and stimulants (e.g., opioids, hallucinogens) is common in people with undiagnosed or untreated depression.
These substances affect people differently, just as symptoms of depression are not the same for everyone. Self-medicating with these substances may temporarily alleviate their symptoms, but problems arise with continued use.
Eventually, a person will have to increase the dosage of the substance they have been taking in order for it to have the same effect that they are used to. This is what typically causes overdoses, which significantly contributes to greater feelings of depression. Inevitably, this only serves to worsen the depression cycle.
Depression After Substance Use
Do drugs cause depression? In most cases, yes. Substance-induced depression is a frequent side effect of regular drug or alcohol use. These mood disorders may be temporary and occur either during the intoxication period or withdrawal.5
It is important to note that substance-induced mood disorders, such as alcohol recovery depression, are considered temporary and not underlying conditions for the purposes of treatment.
These mood disorders typically do not last or occur once treatment has been completed, with the caveat that the patient does not relapse.
Treatment for Co-Occurring Depression and Substance Abuse
In almost all cases, substance abuse treatment cannot occur until the patient has been properly treated for depression and vice versa. For example, by simply treating a patient’s substance use disorder without treating depression, the risk for relapse remains high due to the persistent depressive symptoms.
For substance abuse treatment to be effective, a patient should first undergo therapy for their depression and any other potential mental health conditions.
Therapies That Are Used to Manage Depression
There are many therapies that are used to help patients manage and understand their depression, such as interpersonal therapy (IPT), problem-solving therapy (PST), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Of these, CBT is the most used, and studies have shown that it is commonly the most effective. CBT teaches patients that it is possible to overcome automatic thoughts and beliefs and teaches them practical strategies that can be used to change the way that they think and act.6
Therapies That Are Used for Addiction Treatment
While certain therapies, such as CBT, are effective in helping patients overcome their addictions, there are other, more targeted therapies that are equally effective. These include contingency management (CM), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and the Matrix Model.
Typically, a patient going through addiction treatment will first undergo detox through an inpatient care program. This will help ensure that they are as healthy as possible as they expel the substances from their body with medication and monitoring.
Once inpatient treatment has finished, patients will often continue treatment through an outpatient care facility. This is where they have access to therapy and support groups that can help them achieve a sober lifestyle while managing and treating any underlying mental health conditions that they may have.
Finally, most patients will be referred to a 12-Step program in their area or online that they can attend for ongoing support through their sobriety journey. Addiction recovery is a process, and it is important to remember that it will not be an overnight success.
Medications for Depression and Addiction
There are medications available for both depression and addiction that can be used together to help a patient recover.
Medications used to manage depression include:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Atypical Antidepressants
- Tricyclic Antidepressants
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
Medications used to treat addiction include:
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