Depression and addiction can team up like a dark cloud that follows you around, not just on one bad day, but every day. And using a self-help guide or watching a lighthearted movie following the suggestion of sincere loved ones isn’t always an excellent way to deal with it.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, clinical depression, often known as major depressive disorder, is a severe mood disorder. Severe symptoms affect a person’s ability to think, feel, and carry out mundane tasks.

While not everyone with depression misuses substances, it is not unusual for the two to coexist.

In fact, in an examination of 43,093 individuals in the United States who were 18 years of age and older, researchers discovered that 20% of those who were currently battling alcohol addiction also matched the criteria for severe depressive disorder.

The widespread nature of mental health conditions like severe depression further exacerbates the continuing battle against addiction. Drawing the line and striking a balance now will help save more lives. 

Continue reading to learn about the physical and psychological repercussions of drug intoxication, how depression can worsen addiction, and the need to seek treatment.

co-occurring disorders

What is Depression?

Depression is more than just feeling gloomy. It is characterized by a persistent and pervasive sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in once enjoyable activities. Depression can significantly impact a person’s daily life and functioning.

Critical features of depression may include:

  • Persistent sadness: A deep and long-lasting feeling of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness that persists for most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure: Depression may cause a person to lose interest in or enjoy past interests and pastimes, such as relationships and social interactions.
  • Sleep disturbances: Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleep) are common symptoms of depression.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions: Cognitive difficulties, such as trouble concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things.
  • Fatigue: A persistent lack of energy and exhaustion, even after resting.

Not everyone who experiences depression will have every symptom. Each person is going to feel symptoms in varying degrees.

The Impact on Brain Chemistry 

Depression is a multifaceted condition with multiple potential causes, and its impact on brain chemistry plays a significant role in its development and persistence.

A family history of depression raises the possibility of a genetic predisposition. While no single gene has been identified as the cause of depression, a combination of genetic factors may increase an individual’s susceptibility.

Events and stressors in life, such as traumatic encounters, the death of a family member, problems in relationships, finances, or constant strain, can cause or worsen depression.

self-medication theory


Depression Leading to Addiction: The Self-Medication Theory

Depression may drive individuals to turn to harmful substances as coping mechanisms for several reasons, even though these substances can ultimately exacerbate their mental health issues. 

For example, people may resort to alcohol or drugs as a kind of self-medication to ease their mental distress. They may feel that these substances provide temporary relief from the overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness associated with depression.

Alcohol and drugs can provide a refuge from these emotions, an escape from reality and an avenue of momentarily forgetting about one’s worries. 

Drugs and alcohol may provide short-term respite from depression, but they also aggravate it gradually. Over time, the negative consequences of substance use can compound the problems associated with depression.

The Drawbacks of Self-Medication

Self-medicating can worsen depression symptoms. As the effects of the substances wear off, individuals may experience rebound symptoms, leading to increased feelings of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness.

The use of drugs or alcohol to cope with depression can lead to addiction. Substance use disorders can be extremely challenging to overcome and can exacerbate mental health issues, creating a harmful cycle.

brain chemistry

Source: Oregon Trail Recovery

Substance-Induced Depression 

Excessive substance use can lead to the development of depressive symptoms and even contribute to the onset of a depressive disorder. This relationship is complex and can involve various mechanisms.

Many substances, including alcohol, opioids, and certain stimulants, can affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Chronic use can lead to imbalances in these neurotransmitters, which can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms.

Substance-induced depression typically occurs during or shortly after the use of a particular substance. The onset of depressive symptoms is closely related to the timing of substance use.

On the contrary, primary depression typically develops independently of substance use. It can occur at any point in a person’s life and is not directly linked to the use of drugs or alcohol. This type of depression can be chronic or episodic, with symptoms occurring over a longer duration, even in the absence of substance use.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis

Co-occurring disorders, sometimes referred to as dual diagnosis, are conditions in which an individual has two or more separate mental health or drug use disorders.

For example, someone might have both depression and alcohol use disorder. Co-occurring disorders are relatively common, and they present unique challenges in terms of assessment, treatment, and recovery.

Co-occurring disorder patients are more likely to have unfavorable consequences, such as homelessness, hospitalization, relapse, and legal issues. They may also experience stigma from both mental health and substance use treatment providers, which can create barriers to receiving appropriate care.

It’s crucial for individuals with co-occurring depression and addiction to seek professional help from providers experienced in dual diagnosis treatment. The goal is to help individuals manage both conditions effectively, improve their well-being, and work towards sustainable recovery.

Seeking Treatment 

Integrated treatment approaches for co-occurring disorders address the full spectrum of needs. It raises overall health and lowers the likelihood of repeated episodes.

When one condition is treated while the other is ignored, individuals may experience cross-relapse, where the untreated condition triggers a relapse in the treated condition. Integrated treatment helps prevent this scenario.

Dual diagnosis considers the individual’s physical health, mental health, emotional well-being, and social circumstances. This holistic approach is crucial for sustainable recovery and overall wellness.

Among these are support groups, motivational enhancement treatment, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps patients to detect harmful and illogical thought processes that underlie emotional hardship.

When necessary, medication may also be prescribed. Providing comprehensive care that attends to every facet of a person’s well-being is the ultimate goal.

a man laying in the grass with a bottle of beer


Moving Forward with Treatment

Depression is a prevalent and troubling mental health illness that affects a person’s mood, thinking, and overall well-being. It is sometimes referred to as major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression.

It’s important to note that addiction doesn’t necessarily develop in every person with depression, and not everyone who experiences addiction has depression. However, when both conditions co-occur, it can complicate treatment and recovery. 

With proper therapy and support, these disorders are treatable, and many individuals can find relief from them and see a boost in their quality of life. 

Treatment may include therapy, support groups, medication, and lifestyle changes to help individuals develop healthier coping strategies and reduce reliance on substances as a way of managing their emotional distress. 

If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs of depression and addiction, it’s critical to get help because prompt action can result in faster recovery. Saying no to addiction is a decision that leads to a content, sober life. At Oregon Trail Recovery, we support you as you walk into the future by providing care, love, and healing. Contact us or visit us today.