In 2020, at least 21 million people in the United States (8.4% of the U.S. population) had at least one episode of depression.
It is estimated that more than 1 in 4 adults with significant mental health issues also has a substance use problem. Mood disorders and addiction are often comorbid, which means they occur together.
Read on to find out more about depression and substance abuse, and their occurrence together.
Depression is more than just being sad. It’s a mental health condition that requires treatment. If you are experiencing a sad or “down” mood that is lasting an unusually long time and interfering with your activities of daily life or functioning, this might be depression.
What Is Depression?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is a serious medical condition that negatively impacts how you feel, how and what you think, and how you act.
Symptoms of depression can look different in different people. For the most part, the symptoms last at least two weeks, and interfere with everyday life. Symptoms can include:
- Sad or anxious feelings all the time
- Irritability, restlessness, or easily frustrated
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Early morning wakening or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in activities previously loved
- Physical ailments that don’t get better with any treatment
- Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Tiredness, even after sleeping
- Thoughts about suicide or self-harm
Under the umbrella of depression, there are different types of the disorder, although major depressive disorder is the “classic” depression most people think of when they think of the disorder.
Different types of depression can include:
- Dysthymia: Also called persistent depressive disorder; a depressed mood for at least two years, may also have episodes of major depression with periods of less severe depressive symptoms
- Postpartum depression: Major depression during pregnancy or after giving birth can make caring for yourself and your baby difficult.
- Psychotic depression: This is when severe depression is combined with psychosis.
- Seasonal affective disorder: The onset of depression occurs during winter, with less sunlight, and typically gets better with spring and longer days.
- Bipolar disorder: This is a different disorder, but periods of depressive episodes alternate with episodes of mania.
Depression and Addiction
Depression (and other mental health disorders) and addiction can often occur together.
Which One Comes First?
You can develop either condition first—they each can stem from each other and occur at the same time.
Some people may use substances to deal with emotional pain, and others may experience depression due to the neurological effects of substance abuse.
More than 1 in 4 adults with significant mental health disorders also has a substance abuse issue.
Certain drugs can cause symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, and some people with mental health disorders will abuse substances to self-medicate. Mood disorders and addiction also have facets of underlying causes, like:
- Changes to the brain makeup
- Exposure to trauma
- Genetic predispositions
What Drugs Do People With Depression Abuse?
Common drugs that are abused by people living with depression include:
- Alcohol (the most common)
- MDMA (ecstasy)
- Prescription stimulants
- Synthetic stimulants (like bath salts)
Symptoms of Substance Abuse
Symptoms of a substance abuse problem can include:
- Changes in attendance and/or performance at work or school
- Getting into trouble more
- Sudden mood swings
- Using substances in dangerous situations like driving
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Unexplained changes in personality or behavior
- Decline in motivation
- Being fearful, paranoid, giddy, or hyperactive for no apparent reason
- Bloodshot eyes
- Weight loss/gain
- Unexplained change in friends or hobbies
- Unexplained need for money
- Continued substance use despite negative consequences
There are treatments available for depression, substance abuse, and co-existing depression and substance abuse.
Various aspects of treatments often overlap. Treatment can also vary among individuals—there is no “standard” treatment, and the methods can vary depending on the needs of the individual.
Treatment for depression can include:
Treatment for substance abuse can include:
- Behavioral counseling
- Evaluation and treatment for mental health issues
- Treatment of withdrawal symptoms
- Long-term follow-up plan of care to help reduce the risk of relapse
How to Cope
If you’re living with either depression, substance abuse, or both, it can be hard. You aren’t alone, and do not have to cope with these by yourself.
Some practical things you can do to help cope include:
- Support groups: There are various support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, depression support groups—your healthcare provider or therapist can help you find these, as well as support groups at hospitals or treatment centers.
- Don’t isolate yourself: Find people who will support your treatment and/or recovery, whether a friend or family member, neighbor, or teammates.
- Stay active if possible: Moving your body can help alleviate the symptoms of depression.
- Be gentle with yourself: Recovery takes time.
When to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
If you think you might have a substance abuse problem, depression, or any other mental health issue, call your healthcare provider and ask to be seen as soon as possible. Explain briefly what is going on, so they know how important it is. They can connect you with mental health professionals, treatment programs, and support groups in your area.
Depression and substance abuse often co-occur, because of self-medication, shared root causes, or develop from the other.
Signs can include:
- Losing interest in things that once brought joy
- Unexplained changes in eating or sleeping
- Changes in personality
There are treatments available, and many treatment plans aim to address both mood disorders and addiction.
A Word From VeryWell
Depression and substance abuse are challenging when dealing with them individually; when you are living with both conditions, it can be even more so.
There are treatments for both conditions, and you don’t have to do this by yourself. Talk with your healthcare provider about what’s going on. They can help you get started on the path to treatment and recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does addiction feel like?
Addiction can feel very isolating. It feels like a loss of control because the brain changes: the person needs the substance, it is no longer a choice. More and more of the substance is needed to be okay, and when the substance isn’t available, feelings of stress or anxiety can creep in because the pleasure circuits of the brain aren’t being fed by the substance.
What does depression feel like?
Depression can feel different for everyone. Some people are very sad all the time, some experience symptoms that are more related to irritability and loss of interest in things they used to love. Whatever you’re feeling, if the symptoms are interfering with your everyday life, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider.
How can you support someone with depression?
Ask them what they need. If they don’t know or can’t explain what they need, just be there for them. Listen to them. Bring them food, send them notes just letting them know you’re thinking of them, and send love or support. Offer to run errands for them if they’re not able to get out of the house or treatment facility.