The relationship between substance abuse and depression is bidirectional. This means that individuals who have depression do experience an increased chance of having a substance abuse problem and those with addiction are at a greater risk of having depression.
Many people who suffer from depression will abuse drugs or drink in order to boost their mood or escape feelings of misery or guilt. However, certain substances, including alcohol, have depressant properties, which escalate feelings of sadness. Using substances to alter any negative feelings can become part of a cycle, which hinders the ability to get treatment for depression.
Does Depression or Substance Abuse Come First?
It can be hard to say which comes first since the results will vary from person to person. Some will develop drug addiction or alcoholism while others develop depression first. A study published in the National Institute of Health’s U.S. Library of Medicine shows that alcohol can actually induce depression. This is because it alters the level of serotonin. When serotonin levels rise, the symptoms of depression can sometimes decrease. Those who have depression can sometimes self medicate in order to treat the problem. Over time, substance abuse will worsen depression. Alcohol dependence and drugs can cause a lot of hardships across every aspect of life and these hardships can make depression worse.
Both alcohol use and mental illness will have a similar underlying cause. Genetics play a role in both substance abuse and depression. Someone who has a sibling or parent with depression can be two to three times more likely to develop it than an average person. Both addiction and mental illness can stem from issues in the brain. When someone is vulnerable to one type of brain disease, they can also be vulnerable to other conditions as well. Both mental health disorders and addiction affect the same chemicals and molecules in the brain. Trauma and childhood stress can put a person at a greater risk for depression and substance abuse. Further research is needed to determine the exact reasons why this can occur. Stress can be triggered by neglect, domestic violence, sexual or emotion abuse, or the death of a parent at a young age. Regardless of a person’s age, stress can be a risk factor for depression. When the body releases the stress hormone cortisol, it stimulates symptoms that are similar to depression.
Can Drug Abuse Be a Cause of Depression?
Drug addiction and alcoholism may be able to cause mental illness because they change the chemical balance in the brain. If a mental health specialist doesn’t diagnose and treat the mental illness quickly, it can also encourage the use of substances. Addiction can be a dangerous cycle once it starts.
How Drug Abuse Can Hinder Depression Treatment
Those who have co-occurring substance abuse disorders and depression usually receive specialized treatment to manage both disorders to be able to improve symptoms and increase the effectiveness of rehab. If someone with depression is getting treatment, such as therapy or medication, and notices that drinking numbs feelings, he or she may still be inclined to continue engaging in that activity and avoid evidence-based treatment. This patient may think that substance use works better than medicine or therapy and stop prescriptions or therapy visits. The substance abuse can then create other symptoms of depression, making it even harder to treat the individual.
Effects of Substance Abuse on Depression
Using drugs or drinking to wind down at the end of the day can lead an individual to think that symptoms are improving. Instead, this can just be creating more health problems. Reaching for alcohol or drugs to help lift spirits can cause depression symptoms to worsen. Depression poses risk such as a suppressed immune system, self-harm, a weakened body, and accidental injury. When a mental illness occurs alongside substance use, risks to emotion and physical health increase.
How Having Both Affects Treatment
When an individual suffers from both depression and substance abuse, this is called a co-occurring disorder. These disorders require a more comprehensive treatment plan that will effectively address both disorders. One shouldn’t be treated without the other since an individual that isn’t treated for both can have a higher rate of relapse.
It can be common for people to be unaware of either condition. If only the substance abuse is treated then a person can go back to abusing substances whenever they feel depressed. When only the depression is treated, an individual can continue using substances, which can lead to more depression symptoms. Drugs that are used to treat depression can be affected by alcohol intake. The person can still feel depressed and even develop anxiety when drinking and taking the medication. Alcohol can also cause an individual to become sedated or feel drowsy. Treatment for both substance abuse and depression will usually involve a combination of therapy and medications.