Dealing with Depression and Substance Abuse

About Depression and Substance Abuse Commonly Co-Occur

Depression leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless, and it can lead to other negative emotions like guilt, shame, fear, and anger. If you suffer from depression, you may use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to feel better. Depression and substance abuse often occur together and understanding how one affects the other is essential for getting the kind of help you need to recover from both for the long-term.

Why Depression and Substance Abuse Commonly Co-Occur

It’s very common for people suffering from depression to abuse drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 20 percent of Americans who have a mood disorder such as depression also have a substance use disorder. Conversely, around 20 percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a mood disorder. That’s because while drugs or alcohol may make you feel better for the short-term, they almost always worsen your depression in the long run. This is due to the way these substances affect the structures and functions of your brain.

The relationship between depression and substance abuse works the other way, too. Substance abuse can cause the onset of a mental illness, including depression, where one didn’t exist before.

How Substance Abuse Affects Your Brain and Your Mental Health

Depression and substance abuse have a complex relationship. Drugs and alcohol act on several key areas of the brain, including those related to mood control and emotions. They alter the function of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are related to feelings of happiness and well being.

In the beginning, drugs, and alcohol increase the activity of these “feel good” neurotransmitters. But as occasional substance use transitions to heavier substance abuse, the brain begins to compensate for the presence of the substance by reducing the activity of these chemicals. The result is that the more alcohol or drugs you use, the more your brain compensates by adjusting neurotransmitter activity. This leads to tolerance, which means that you need increasingly larger doses to get the desired effects.

Over time, chronic substance abuse can lead to depression or make your existing depression much worse. The relationship between depression and substance abuse is well known, and particularly when they occur together, it can quickly lead to addiction.

Dual Diagnosis: Treatment is Essential

When depression and substance abuse or addiction co-occur, it’s called a dual diagnosis. The addiction and the depression must be treated at the same time for the best possible outcome. Treating only the depression but not the addiction ensures the substance abuse will likely keep the depression coming back. Treating only the substance abuse but not the depression will likely be unsuccessful as well since depression is a major risk factor for substance abuse.

Dual diagnosis treatment addresses the depression and substance abuse in tandem, as a collaboration among treatment teams. The addiction is treated in the context of the depression, and vice versa. Treating the depression and substance abuse at the same time helps ensure both remain under control for the long-term.

Depression and Addiction Recovery Can Transform Your Life

The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that willpower and good intentions alone are rarely enough to overcome an addiction. Professional help is almost always needed to end a perpetual cycle of remission and relapse for the long-term, and this is especially true when depression and addiction co-occur.

Addiction and depression are both highly treatable, and depression and addiction recovery through a high quality, holistic treatment program can transform your life. A holistic program helps you manage symptoms of depression and work through the issues that underlie it as well as those that underlie the addiction. Treatment works, and it can help you find purpose, meaning, and joy in life again.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.