Depression is a common mental illness that affects people globally. It’s especially common in those battling an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, even though it may soothe a person’s depression in the short term, substance abuse will trigger and intensify feelings of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness associated with depression in the long term.

According to WebMD, an estimated 33 percent of those with major depression also have an alcohol problem. It’s common for depression to come first and be followed by drinking to cope with these feelings. Research also found that depressed children are more likely to have problems with alcohol later in their lives. Teens who experienced major depression are twice as likely to start drinking than those who haven’t.

It’s common for people to experience highs and lows throughout their lives, but clinical depression can last for weeks, months, and in some cases, years. It causes significant issues in a person’s life, including their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle and work.

For a person who is struggling with depression and sees no end in sight to their misery, alcohol and drugs are often the most cost-effective and attainable solution to their problems. Although these substances may provide temporary relief to their emotional pain and even happiness for some, these substances are addictive. The more you consume these substances, the more dependent your body will become on their effects. Over time, substance abuse will lead to health problems like brain damage or even death.

Major depression affects an estimated 17.3 million American adults, translating to 7.1 percent of the U.S. population. Major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than men, and 1.9 million children between ages 3 and 17 are diagnosed with depression. More than 20 percent of Americans with a mood disorder like depression or anxiety have a substance or alcohol use disorder.

Understanding Depression

Those struggling with depression face an uphill battle, and many elements of depression overlap with the signs of addiction, which makes it crucial that individuals get the necessary care and treatment for both disorders. If you don’t treat depression in therapy, you’ll likely leave with the same symptoms that caused you to use drugs or alcohol, meaning relapse is imminent.

Both addiction and depression may cause a person to:

  • Isolate themselves from others
  • Refuse to acknowledge an issue exists
  • Give up hobbies or social activities
  • Experience issues with their personal relationships

For a person struggling with depression, it’s tempting to find an escape and relieve the feelings with alcohol or drugs. Despite their ability to ease depression, drugs or alcohol will ultimately lead to more harm in a person’s life, including personal hardships and financial troubles.

Most Common Types of Depression

There are several different types of depression that can affect a person. Below, we’ll discuss the most common types.

  • Major Depression: This is one of the most common types of depression. As mentioned earlier, it affects 7 percent of the population at any given time. Symptoms of this type of depression include a lack of energy, extreme sadness, changes in sleep patterns, and irritability that typically last for more than two weeks. If left untreated, it can persist throughout a person’s life.
  • Dysthymia: This is a milder form of depression, and those with dysthymia will struggle with a continuous “gloomy mood” that lasts for more than one or two years. Substance abuse will mask these negative emotions in the short term. However, it’ll drastically disrupt the individual’s work, relationships, and daily activities moving forward.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) generally occurs in the wintertime and is a type of depression associated with variations of light. Individuals with this type of depression could experience mood changes, anxiety, sleep problems, and overeating. For a SAD diagnosis to be made, a person must exhibit these symptoms over three consecutive winters.
  • Atypical Depression: An individual with atypical depression will experience symptoms of depression. However, their mood will be uplifted with news of a positive event. The “low” periods can become so severe that a person loses their desire to live. Using illicit substances or alcohol to self-medicate atypical depression might result in detrimental behavioral and emotional problems.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression symptoms will vary based on the type. A co-occurring addiction to illicit substances or alcohol can increase the severity of these symptoms. Individuals suffering from depression have a 10 percent lifetime suicide risk. When you combine this with substance abuse, the suicide risk increased to nearly 25 percent.

The most common symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, work, and personal goals
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling useless or pessimistic
  • Problems sleeping, such as sleeping too much or not sleeping at all
  • Changes in weight and appetite, such as eating too much or eating too little

The majority of those who experience depression will experience one or more of these symptoms at some point in their lives. However, for those with severe depression, symptoms can be dangerous, and in some cases, life-threatening. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you should immediately call 911. It could potentially save a life.

Symptoms of Severe Depression

Symptoms of severe depression can be dangerous and include the following:

  • Reckless behavior, such as driving under the influence (DUI) or having unprotected sex
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with depression

Recovering From Depression and Substance Abuse


What makes a dual diagnosis so challenging to treat is that each disorder will intensify the symptoms of another. Drinking in excess will not make depression better; it’ll make the condition more serious. If someone is an alcoholic, their depression will prevent them from getting the right mindset to overcome their alcohol addiction.

The complexity level behind treating a dual diagnosis patient is high. It’s a known fact that those who have a dual diagnosis will not get the care necessary in a traditional rehab program. Only specific programs designed to handle psychiatric problems and drug or alcohol conditions will be able to help. These programs will offer the necessary detox, counseling, and aftercare planning.

Relationship Between Depression and Substance Abuse

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions in the country. Nearly 16.1 million American adults will experience at least one major depressive disorder this year.

A 2014 study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 7.9 million Americans have a dual diagnosis, which refers to having a mental illness like depression, and a substance use disorder at the same time.

Both disorders affect one another. For example, a person with depression will likely use substances to ease their symptoms. On the flip side, substance abuse will exacerbate mental illness symptoms, and in some cases, cause them.

Depression After Using Drugs

Withdrawal from alcohol and certain types of drugs may result in symptoms that overlap with or are similar to those seen in cases of depression.

  • Alcohol withdrawal: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms will include anxiety and agitation. Once the acute withdrawal phase passes, most people will experience insomnia, mood instability, fatigue, hostility, anger, and lack of sex drive.
  • Stimulant withdrawal: Withdrawal from this class of drugs will include a lack of pleasure and depressed mood for several weeks after cessation. When someone crashes after stimulant intoxication, they’ll experience fatigue and struggle with overwhelming cravings.
  • Opioid withdrawal: Withdrawing from prescription opioids, heroin, or fentanyl will result in body pain, severe agitation, and depression. Opioid withdrawal will also cause anxiety, sleep disturbances, and severe cravings for several weeks.

Using and withdrawing from these substances will intensify preexisting mental health disorders, which is another reason those suffering from addiction and depression need to be evaluated by a professional for an adequate diagnosis.

Ideally, both conditions should be treated at the same time through an integrated treatment that focuses on relapse prevention. Many symptoms of depression will return and worsen after a drug user becomes abstinent.

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