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Depression & Substance Abuse 

A depressive disorder is more than just a bad mood. It’s a mental illness that can cause you to live as a shell of yourself and trap you in guilt, confusion, and shame. 


People experiencing depression are likely to abuse substances as a way to cope with their depression symptoms. Fortunately, depression and addiction treatment options can help you or your loved one improve your quality of life.

Prevalence of Depression Disorders with Addiction

For Americans between the age of 15 and 44, depression is the leading cause of disability. Depression disorders influence more than 16.1 million lives, or about seven percent of the population, in a given year. 


Sadly, these numbers are suspected of having increased significantly after the isolation caused by the COIVD-19/Coronavirus pandemic. 


Since the pandemic, organizations have tracked the number of disorders, including depression and substance abuse, and each has worsened nationwide.

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Major Depression Signs and Symptoms

Major depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, is characterized by depressive symptoms lasting for two or more weeks. 


Major depression symptoms include:


  • sadness
  • emptiness
  • anger or frustration 
  • guilt and helplessness 
  • lack of interest in typical activities 
  • lethargy and poor concentration 
  • periods of little or no sleep 
  • significant changes in appetite or weight 
  • pain and discomfort without a clear cause 

Addiction Symptoms

Substance abuse and addiction refer to a condition where drug abuse and addictive behavior are prevalent. 


A substance use disorder (SUD) usually involves some degree of physiological dependence on the substance being abused. As the body develops a tolerance to the drug, withdrawal symptoms will occur if they stop taking it or take less. 


Signs and symptoms of addiction include: 


  • cravings and urges to take drugs 
  • being unable to stop taking drugs or reduce the amount taken, even if you want to
  • risky behaviors (lying, theft, driving under the influence) 
  • spending more than you have to obtain drugs and alcohol 
  • sacrificing work, school, or family responsibilities for drug use 
  • rationalizing away drug use and the risks or consequences it’s causing 
  • harmful changes in personality, health, behaviors, mental health, and self-care 

The more prolonged drug use goes on without formal substance abuse treatment, the worse the addiction will become. 

Potential Risk Factors for Depression and Addiction

Several risk factors are associated with an increased risk of one or both illnesses. These risk factors include: 


  • unstable or traumatic childhood 
  • poor parental involvement 
  • immediate family members with substance abuse issues or depression 
  • chronic medical conditions 
  • traumatic life events 
  • high levels of stress 
  • poor coping skills 

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Depression

Depression and substance abuse play off one another, like other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. An individual experiencing depression may turn to substance abuse to self-medicate and improve their symptoms. 


Escalating symptoms of substance abuse can also cause depression to worsen by impairing the ability to take care of yourself. Depression also has many overlapping symptoms of drug withdrawal and detox once you start recovery. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options

Depression and addiction are very likely to co-occur. Because of this, integrated treatment strategies have been developed to address both conditions. 


Dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and depression may include:

Behavioral Health Therapies

Behavioral health therapies address the same issues by modifying how someone sees and interacts with the world. Various treatments can involve some level of behavioral analysis. 


Therapies used to treat depression and addiction include: 


  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 
  • interpersonal therapy (IPT) 
  • problem-solving therapy (PST) 
  • contingency management (CM) 
  • motivational enhancement therapy (MET) 
  • group therapy 

In combination with exercise, psychiatry, and other services, behavioral health therapy can provide additional support during recovery. 

Medically-Assisted Treatment

MAT programs are commonly employed to aid in treating co-occurring depression and addiction. Medications are not a stand-alone treatment. But a piece of a much more extensive treatment puzzle. 


Some medications that are frequently used to treat depression and drug addiction include: 


  • antidepressants 
  • naltrexone 
  • disulfiram (Antabuse) 
  • methadone 
  • buprenorphine 

Depression & Addiction Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Is there a connection between alcohol abuse and depression?

A: Yes. The connection between alcohol abuse and depression is powerful. In some cases, alcohol abuse can cause depression in otherwise healthy people. On the other hand, depression can lead to alcohol abuse by self-medicating any unwanted symptoms. Over time, alcohol misuse will worsen depression and vice versa. 


Q: Do depression and opioid abuse happen together?

A: Yes. Depression can happen during opioid abuse. In some cases, someone may abuse opioids to cope with their depression. While opioids may induce temporary relief, using them typically leads to addiction and worsened depression.  

In severe cases, a healthy person who chooses to abuse opioids increases their risk of experiencing depression because the drug abuse causes chemical changes in the brain. 

Find Depression and Addiction Treatment Near You 

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Anxiety & Depression Association of America – Depression


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Comorbidity of Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Executive Order Saving Lives Through Increased Support for Mental and Behavioral Health Needs Report


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