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The Relationship Between Depression and Substance Abuse

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The Relationship Between Depression and Substance Abuse

When two or more mental illnesses occur together, it’s known as a dual diagnosis. It’s not uncommon for people with substance use disorder to be diagnosed with depression, and vice versa. Substance use disorder can worsen symptoms of depression, and signs of depression can make a substance use disorder worse. Getting out of the cycle requires treatment for depression and addiction.

Depression and Substance Abuse Statistics


Burning Tree Ranch Offers the Best Long Term Dual Diagnosis Treatment for the Chronic Relapser


Symptoms of Depression and Substance Abuse that Overlap

Many of the symptoms of depression and substance use disorder overlap. These include the following:

  • Lack of interest in things that once brought you pleasure
  • Social isolation
  • Giving up hobbies and other activities
  • Poor performance at school or a job
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Weight and appetite changes

One of the reasons that symptoms of depression and addiction are often similar is that both mental illnesses involve changes in brain chemicals. When the neurotransmitters that affect your mood, such as serotonin and dopamine, are unbalanced, you may experience a low mood and seek out substances to help you feel better.

If you treat substance use disorder without addressing the depression, your symptoms may remain. That’s not necessarily an indicator that the addiction treatment has failed. It may be a sign that you have depression or another mental health disorder and need to enter a dual diagnosis treatment program.

Does One Mental Illness Cause the Other?

Because depression and substance abuse are so intricately linked, it’s difficult to say whether one causes the other. However, there are several theories that explain why the relationship between depression and addiction is so strong.

The Self-Medication Theory

Individuals may use substances to diminish symptoms of existing depression. Initially, using drugs might hide or diminish the adverse emotional states. Over time, however, the pharmacological effects of substances can worsen symptoms of depression.

If you rely on drugs to improve your mood, your body will try to regulate itself back to homeostasis. This often results in a drop in feel-good chemicals and a dependence on the substance. With reduced levels of neurotransmitters that help you regulate your mood, you might feel depressive symptoms whether or not you’re intoxicated. The effects of the drugs also lessen over time, making it difficult for you to get out of your depression.

Substance-Induced Depression

Consuming drugs can increase symptoms of depression because substances interfere with your neural pathways. They change your brain communication and dull some of the natural chemicals that enhance your mood. In people who are genetically vulnerable to depression, perhaps because of a hereditary factor, using drugs can compound existing anomalies and bring about symptoms of the mood disorder.

Substance-induced depression means that your drug use is directly contributing to your mental health disorder. The symptoms only come on when you’re using the substance, and they dissipate a few days after quitting or going through withdrawal.

For example, research shows that heavy drinking can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Those feelings typically wear off with the intoxication if depression is not an underlying diagnosis. However, symptoms of depression can remain during withdrawal or become long-term with chronic substance use disorder.

How Genetics Play a Role in Depression and Substance Use Disorder

Genetic factors also play a role in developing depression and addiction. Your genes can make you more likely to develop depression, which can lead you to self-medicate. In addition, your genetic makeup can influence the way that your brain responds to the chemicals, making you more likely than someone else to develop an addiction.

The Role of Stress in Depression and Substance Abuse

The life circumstances that are associated with substance abuse disorder can also bring on depression. For example, someone who isolates themselves in an effort to hide their drug use may feel lonely and disconnected. They may struggle to keep a job, which affects their income, ability to nourish themselves and housing situation.

Some of the ways that ongoing stress in your daily life can contribute to depression and substance abuse disorder include the following:

  • Stress makes you less likely to use healthy coping mechanisms to manage hard emotions.
  • Adverse mood changes increase stress levels, and stress leads to the depletion of chemicals that boost your mood.
  • Stress interferes with relationships.
  • Stress disrupts healthy routines, which can lead to unhealthy approaches to self-regulation.
  • Stress makes it difficult for you to think clearly and make constructive decisions.

Do You Need a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program?

Depression and addiction can make you feel like you’re in survival mode. But if you’re struggling with your mental health, it may help to know that you can find a path out of the darkness.

You may need more than an addiction treatment program. A facility that offers dual diagnosis treatment addresses all of the elements that are affecting your mental health.

If the information in this article resonates with you, you may be struggling with depression and substance abuse. This is especially true if you’re a chronic relapser. Getting an accurate diagnosis is important for guiding your treatment toward the best results.

When you work toward holistic healing, you’ll witness benefits all around. With fewer depressive symptoms, you may be less likely to use substances. As your coping skills improve, you’ll feel less vulnerable to the influence of uncontrollable emotions. The therapies that we offer at Burning Tree Ranch are designed to help with your dual diagnosis.

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Dual Diagnosis Explained for Families

Dual diagnosis is a term that many families may have heard but don’t fully understand. Put simply, dual diagnosis refers to the co-occurrence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder in the same individual. As a LCDC, I can assure you that dual diagnoses are fairly common and understanding the nature of the diagnosis is the first step for families seeking help for their loved ones.

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