Substance Abuse and Depression

When someone has both substance abuse and depression, they have a dual diagnosis. The definition of dual diagnosis is when a person has one or more disorders related to abuse or addiction to substances. Also, a person has one or more conditions related to mental health.

In this article, we’re exploring the dangerous connection between substance abuse and depression.

Substance Abuse and Depression

Depression and substance abuse often go hand in hand.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported in 2019; there were nearly 400,000 adolescents with both a substance abuse and mental health disorder. There were 3.6 million adults who reportedly had a dual diagnosis.

Treatment statistics were much different, however. Adolescents receiving treatment increased, except for co-occurring disorders. Meaning, more teens went to mental health services only or received substance abuse treatment only. The number who received specific co-occurring disorders treatment was 5,000 out of the 400,000.

For adults, 452,000 received treatment for both mental illness and substance use disorder.

Understanding the connection between mental illness and addiction supports the need for co-occurring or dual diagnosis treatment. For many, one does not exist without the other.

No one can say for sure if mental illness leads to substance abuse or if substance abuse causes mental illness. What is known is that together, they create a vicious cycle of negative symptoms. Separate, they are two very different disorders.

Depression Defined

You may hear depression called many different names. That’s because there are many different types, including major depressive disorder, unipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder. Some refer to it as having the blues or being sad for no reason.

To be diagnosed with depression, you must have had symptoms for two weeks or longer. Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, emptiness, or guilt. To further investigate whether you may be struggling with depression, be on the lookout for common signs.

Common Signs of Depression

The most commonly reported symptoms of depression include irritability, mood swings, quick to temper, isolation or withdrawing from friends and family, avoiding activities you once found enjoyable, and a change in eating habits.

Some with depression begin to overeat, while others lose their appetite. Trouble concentrating, sleep disturbances, and physical aches and pains could be due to depression.

Depression appears because of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. There are neurotransmitters, or chemicals, in the brain that regulate all of these feelings, serotonin, and dopamine. Those with depression often have low levels of both.

Alcohol and drugs directly affect and change the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Some use substances to cope with feelings of depression. Some people never had depression until they began using drugs or alcohol.

Substance Abuse Defined

Substance abuse refers to the continual and excessive use of a drug or alcohol, leading to significant impairment or distress within 12 months.

Substance abuse interferes with your ability to fulfill daily responsibilities like complete work projects, household chores, and personal care. It is the reason you are absent from work or school. It may also be why you have received negative consequences, like suspension from school or work. Legally, you may have gotten a DUI for driving under the influence or arrested for public intoxication. As substance abuse increases, so do the negative consequences.

Abusing drugs and alcohol will interfere with meaningful relationships. For some, relationships are beyond repair.

There are even more specific signs that indicate substance abuse disorder.

Signs of Substance Abuse Disorder

Anyone who becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol will likely find that most of their time is spent seeking substances and then using them. You may participate in risky behaviors to obtain drugs or alcohol. Drinking and driving, prostitution, stealing, and dealing are examples of risky behaviors.

Even when you get in trouble for illegal activities like the ones listed, you cannot stop the seeking and using cycle. It is difficult to stop due to the effects they have on your brain.

Substance Use and The Brain

As mentioned, drugs and alcohol change the amount of serotonin and dopamine released in your brain. If you are feeling depressed and decide to drink or use drugs, you will feel good initially. That’s because substances trigger a release of dopamine and serotonin in large amounts. They flood the reward center of the brain, and you feel a rush of euphoria. You get high, and you no longer feel depressed.

The problem is that when the dopamine and serotonin levels start to wane and go back to their usual low, the brain is triggered to crave more of the feel-good substances. Thus begins the cycle of not wanting to take more substances but feeling the need to take them to feel “normal.”

As time goes on, you need to use more drugs or alcohol to achieve that first high—your tolerance increases, leading to physical dependence.

Just a few weeks of this cycle can lead to addiction. The addicted brain remembers how it felt to feel good and becomes obsessed with reaching that high again. When you try to quit on your own, feelings of depression return, only worse.

It is not all bad news, though. The good news is that treatment exists for both depression and substance abuse -so you can get back to living a healthy, happy life.

Treatment Can Help Both Substance Abuse and Depression

It is so exciting to be living in a time when help is available to ease and possibly eliminate issues related to depression and substance abuse.

Mental health centers are the right place when searching for help. You have access to psychiatrists, who are physicians with a specialty in mental health and addiction. You can meet with counselors licensed by the state to provide treatment and education to help you overcome these illnesses. Treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and trauma therapies help you recognize issues, deal with them, and move forward.

Whether you are struggling with depression, substance abuse, or both, help is available. You can reach out today online or give us a call. We are here for you.