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Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Depression

Depression, whether mild or clinical, is common in people struggling with different types of substance use disorders. 

The two disorders (addiction and depression) often have a complex relationship as one can lead to the other. And as recent research shows, around a third of people diagnosed with clinical depression have alcohol or drug problems. 

On most occasions, people struggling with depression rely on drugs to relieve the symptoms. 

And while drug abuse can provide a short-lasting ‘escape,’ the long-term effects can be severe, especially if the situation is not handled early enough. 

If you want to know more about the relationship between drug (and alcohol) abuse and depression, then you couldn’t be in a better place. 

Read on as we take a look at some of the ways to treat depression and overcome addiction before the consequences become dire. 

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More Information About Depression

Depression is a common and potentially serious medical condition that negatively impacts an individual’s feelings, behavior, and responses. 

Although treatable, depression can prove destructive if not addressed early enough. The feelings of sadness can lead to a loss of interest in a variety of activities a victim once enjoyed. 

If people diagnosed with addiction don’t seek professional assistance, they can easily develop negative coping mechanisms such as drug and alcohol use. 

According to recent CDC stats, 4.7% of adults above 18 years experience feelings of depression. The report further highlights that a worrying 40% of people diagnosed with depression develop suicidal thoughts further along the line. 

Depression is often undermined by many and often dismissed as mild mood swings that eventually disappear. However, mild depression can gradually transform into clinical depression, which can have lasting effects on a victim’s quality of life. 

The Relationship Between Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Depression

Substance use disorder is a serious medical condition that worsens as the addiction progresses. 

What usually starts as a casual behavior gradually develops into dependence before morphing into a full-blown addiction. 

In most cases, people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction tend to become depressed as the effects of addiction become apparent. 

The feelings of depression usually kick in post denial, especially when it becomes clear that addiction has taken its toll. 

Some of the adverse effects of addiction like loss of employment, broken marriages, and expulsion from school kick in hard, usually one after another. After several months or years of addiction, most users develop clinical depression, which is nearly impossible to treat without professional intervention. 

Just the same way drug abuse can lead to depression, so too can the relationship work inversely. 

CDC reports that people with depression are 4 times more likely to develop drug and alcohol addiction as a way of coping with the negative emotions and feelings of loneliness. 

Let’s take a quick look at the relationship between specific drugs and depression. 

Depression and Alcohol 

Alcohol is arguably the most commonly abused and easily available drug. This explains why alcohol is often used for stress reduction purposes. 

While alcohol consumption can temporarily ease nerves and relax the body, it can harm your neurochemistry if abused for extended periods. 

And as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveals in its report, a large number of people struggling with alcohol use disorder have co-occurring disorders like depression. 

Drinking is known to worsen depression, especially once the addiction gets out of hand and leads to a reduction in the quality of life. 

Depression and Stimulants 

Although stimulants like MDMA and cocaine may induce a short-lasting euphoria, the high is usually followed by a massive drop, which often precedes a relatively long slump until the drug is consumed again. 

Continued use of stimulants, whether legal or illegal, can alter a user’s neurochemistry and increase the chances of clinical depression. 

Depressed people using stimulants to lift moods often end up worsening their conditions, which significantly increases the risks of overdose and suicidal thoughts. 

Depression and Marijuana Abuse 

While marijuana might temporarily reduce the symptoms of depression, it can also lead to negative emotions like sadness and anxiety. 

Although there are not enough studies to prove that a direct relationship exists between marijuana and mood disorders, the drug can worsen the symptoms of depression if abused for extended periods. 

Depression and Opioids 

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain to reduce the effects of pain and create a calming effect. However, when abused, prescription opioids alter the brain’s reward system, creating a hormonal imbalance that increases the chances of depression.

Moreover, the chances of abusing opioids increase when patients have co-occurring disorders like depression, as they’ll crave higher doses to have the desired effect. 

How to Know A Loved One Is Depressed 

In addition to drug or alcohol addiction, your loved one might be struggling with depression, which can make treatment increasingly difficult. 

Below are some of the common signs of depression that your addicted loved one might be exhibiting: 

Social Withdrawal

Social withdrawal is a major red flag for depression, especially when dealing with a naturally outgoing person. You’ll know that your loved one is struggling with depression if they no longer want to hang out or participate in activities that were once hobbies. 

While not everyone who withdraws socially is depressed, it is important to keep an eye out for the degree of isolation. 

Normal withdrawal might be normal, but when the individual becomes extremely antisocial and isolated, you might need to take immediate action to prevent the situation from worsening. 

Feelings of Hopelessness 

One of the major signs of depression is hopelessness, especially when everything seems to be going wrong. You’ll find that a loved one might become negative about everything when depression kicks in. 

The feelings of hopelessness can become overwhelming if the victim doesn’t receive enough support from friends and family members. 

Therefore, you should consider seeking professional assistance if your friend or loved one becomes increasingly negative about work, school, or personal-life related issues. 


Although it is normal to feel fatigued and unmotivated due to built-up fatigue, feeling so for a prolonged period can be a sign of depression. The lack of desire to perform basic tasks, more often than not, signals depression, or the start of it, and should not be taken lightly. 

Drug addicts struggling with depression will rarely perform basic hygiene activities, instead preferring to escape their slump by indulging in drugs, which creates a potentially fatal cycle of abusing drugs to cope with depression. 

Frustration and Irritability

If frustration and irritability have become a normal part of your daily routine, then you might be dealing with depression. 

Depression manifests in various ways and can often leave victims feeling irritable and ever frustrated. Therefore, you should consider seeking professional medical attention if you notice a negative change in moods or attitude either in yourself or a loved one. 

Appetite and Weight Change 

It’s normal for appetite and weight to fluctuate for people dealing with depression. And since the experience varies from person to person, some might lose their appetite and, in turn, lose weight, while those with an increased appetite will gain weight. 

You’ll know you’re dealing with depression if the appetite and feeding changes aren’t intentional. 

Uncontrollable Emotions 

If your emotions have been all over the place for extended periods, despite the absence of external stimuli, chances are you might be dealing with depression. 

Depression is known to cause mood swings that tend to worsen over time. This explains why it’s crucial to seek professional intervention before the symptoms progress and lead to negative thoughts like suicide. 

Suicidal Thoughts 

Although manageable and treatable, depression can quickly spiral out of control if not treated early enough. As clinical depression worsens, patients can develop suicidal tendencies, especially once they become hopeless due to a poor attitude. 

People struggling with addiction and depression are more likely to develop suicidal behavior than non-addicted people with depression. 

Disclaimer: Depression comes with a lot of symptoms that vary depending on individuals. If your loved one (or yourself) has most of the above symptoms, then it’s best to seek medical assistance for professional assessments. 

What Causes Depression?

Depression affects people differently and can be caused by several factors, as explained below. 


Depression can be a genetic disorder, and you’ll most likely be predisposed to the condition if someone in your direct family lineage had the condition. Although the risks of developing depression might be high if there’s a family history, it’s not a must that you’ll become depressed. 


People with low self-esteem are a lot more likely to become depressed, especially when overwhelmed with responsibilities or life pressures. Moreover, introverts are also highly likely to develop the condition, especially if they tend to bottle everything. 

Personal Environment 

Personal circumstances such as addiction, violence, poverty, or neglect can increase the risks of depression. A negative personal environment is toxic and will almost certainly lead to depression if not made conducive enough. 

Medical Issues 

People diagnosed with serious conditions such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes are likely to develop mood disorders like depression either due to the pain or hectic treatment schedules. Coping with such conditions also increases the risk of developing drug or alcohol addictions. 

What To Do If Your Loved One Shows Signs Of Depression

If you suspect that someone you love is slowly sinking into depression, it’s best to seek medical attention as the condition tends to worsen if not addressed early enough. 

Here’s what you can do to a loved one that shows signs of depression. 

Talk About It 

Talking to a loved one about your concerns is a great way to provide help and perhaps allow them to open up about their struggles. 

However, talking about issues isn’t enough since depression is a medical problem that, more often than not, needs professional assistance. 

So as you talk to your loved one about the underlying problem, it’s best to try and convince them of the need for medical assistance to address the problem. 

Get Professional Help

The best way to treat depression is by consulting a doctor for further review and assistance. Once relevant tests have been conducted to determine the severity of the condition, the doctor will then recommend suitable treatment methods. 

Similarly, the doctor might recommend rehab if a depressed loved one is also struggling with addiction. Either way, it is important to seek professional assistance as the practitioner will advise on the best possible cause of action. 

Can A Rehab Treat Addiction and Depression?

A rehab can treat both addiction and depression, provided it specializes in co-occurring disorders. Most rehabs offer dual diagnosis services to treat addiction and co-occurring disorders like depression and other mental health issues. 

On most occasions, you (or a loved one) will need to enroll in inpatient rehab to treat both the addiction and underlying mental health issues. As you receive medication-assisted treatment and therapy for your addiction, you’ll also benefit from a variety of evidence-based modalities to treat conditions like depression. 

Dual diagnosis services help patients heal holistically, effectively reducing the risk of relapse after discharge. 

Can Depression Lead To Suicidal Thoughts?

Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior if not treated early enough. Clinical depression tends to worsen over time and can lead to a variety of issues such as addiction and other mental health issues. 

Seeking medical assistance for depression, especially when dealing with a loved one who is addicted to drugs, is crucial to preventing suicidal thoughts. 

Where To Get Help

Get Help Today

Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

Make a Call

Both addiction and depression can be treated. However, overcoming these conditions can prove hard, especially if you don’t follow the right approach. 

For addiction and co-occurring disorders like depression, it is highly advisable to seek professional assistance in a licensed rehab. A thorough examination will be conducted to determine the extent of addiction before your doctor recommends the most suitable treatment plan. 

Contact a licensed rehab today to break the chains of addiction and reclaim your life today. 

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