Depression & Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Each year, depression affects more than 6.7% of Americans,1 while substance use disorder impacts roughly 19.7%.2 Both of these conditions present with symptoms that can be challenging to deal with, especially when they are co-occurring with one another. In fact, more than 1 in 4 individuals with a serious mental health disorder like depression also has a substance use disorder.3

This article will explain the co-occurring disorder of depression and addiction in more detail, as well as discuss symptoms of each condition and how AdCare Treatment Centers can help.

Understanding Depression and Substance Abuse

Spouses in therapy

Substance use disorders and depression are among the most common co-occurring disorders.3 A co-occurring disorder, also known as a dual diagnosis, occurs when both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder are present at the same time. It is important to note that not everyone who is diagnosed with a mental health disorder will develop a substance use disorder and vice versa.

While the co-occurrence of mental health and substance use disorders impacts 7.7 million Americans,4 it is important to understand that one condition doesn’t always cause the other. It is possible, however, that they can influence one another. For example, individuals with certain mental health disorders like depression may be more likely to use substances as a way to self-medicate and cope with the symptoms of that specific condition. Furthermore, substance use can change the structure and function of the brain, which can increase a person’s risk of developing a mental health disorder.

Other common co-occurring disorders include:

Symptoms of Depression

Depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder, is a serious mood disorder that impacts how you think, feel, and act.5 Depression symptoms can range in intensity and present differently in each person, however most common symptoms include the following:5

  • Decrease in energy
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness
  • Feeling chronically sad or empty
  • Anhedonia or loss of pleasure in once pleasurable activities
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Suicide attempts or thoughts of death
  • Unknown physical pains and aches such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Reduction in psychomotor activity (talking and walking slower than usual)
  • Difficulty sleeping

You may be experiencing depression if you have several of these symptoms almost daily, for most of the day, and for at least 2 weeks.5

Symptoms of Addiction

Symptoms of addiction can range in severity, look different for each person, and depend on several variables unique to the individual. Symptoms can be behavioral, physical, and social and include:6

Learning the symptoms of addiction can be helpful in determining if you may be experiencing a substance use disorder, however it is always recommended to seek an official diagnosis from a professional.

Which Comes First: Depression or Addiction?

As previously stated, mental health and substance use disorders can mutually influence one another and exacerbate each other’s symptoms.4 It is important to note that one disorder doesn’t always necessarily cause the other, and it can be difficult to determine which disorder came first.4 However, certain factors can increase your risk of developing a co-occurring substance use disorder or mental illness.

Risk factors that can increase your risk of developing depression include:5

  • Having certain physical and medical problems.
  • A family history of depression.
  • Stress, trauma, and major life challenges.

Risk factors that can increase your risk of developing a SUD include:7

  • A family history of substance use.
  • Family neglect, abuse, and trauma.
  • Using drugs or alcohol at a young age.
  • Family history of addiction and genetic susceptibility.
  • Parental approval of substance use and substance use within the family system.
  • Low socioeconomic status.

Depression & Alcohol Use Disorder

Studies have consistently demonstrated a connection between depression and alcohol use disorder.8 While the association between the two does not mean that one condition caused the other, researchers have theorized that this connection can be attributed to the following:8

  • Shared underlying environmental and genetic factors that mutually increase the risk for developing both disorders
  • The presence of each disorder sharing a causal effect, meaning that the presence of one disorder can increase the risk of developing the other disorder

Therefore, those who have depression are at increased risk for developing alcohol use disorder as a means of attempting to cope with or self-medicate their symptoms. Conversely, those who develop alcohol use disorder may begin exhibiting symptoms of depression that worsen as time passes.8

Depression & Drug Abuse

Anxious man with head in hands

Similar to alcohol use disorder, drug misuse and depression have been proven to be closely associated with one another. Research demonstrates a connection between the use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin to an increased risk for symptoms of depression.9 Research also highlights that a contributing factor for this type of co-occurring disorder is the stigma associated with substance use. More specifically, substance use stigma contributes to loss of status, social discrimination, and separation. Lack of social support may contribute to the development of depression.9

Additionally, certain co-occurring disorders such as PTSD and substance use disorders, anxiety and substance use disorders and bipolar disorder and substance use disorders, may develop as a result of a person trying to self-medicate and manage the symptoms of the respective mental health disorder.10 Furthermore, substance use can change the structure and function of the brain leading to the development of certain mental health disorders.10

How to Help Someone with Depression or Drug or Alcohol Addiction

If you know someone struggling with depression and/or a substance use disorder, there are things you can do to offer help and support. Talking to your loved one about their challenges in a compassionate and nonjudgmental manner can be a source of encouragement for your loved one. Strategies on how to help a loved one with addiction include:11

  • Identifying an appropriate time and safe space to have a conversation.
  • Discussing your concerns and being direct.
  • Acknowledging and validating your loved one’s feelings without judgment or criticism.
  • Offering to help and reassure your loved one that treatment is available and that it can help.
  • Showing patience and recognizing that change takes time.

Treating Depression and Addiction

Effective treatment involves treating depression and addiction simultaneously.8 AdCare Treatment Centers offer mental health and addiction treatment in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

At AdCare Treatment Centers, we provide several treatment options, such as short-term drug detox, long-term residential rehab, and intensive outpatient rehab that can address co-occurring disorders. Caring admissions navigators are available around the clock to help you start the rehab admissions process. Take the first step and coverage by filling out this quick and easy form, and learn more about insurance coverage for addiction treatment.

Call to start your recovery journey today.

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