Substance Abuse and Depression: Understanding the Link

 Substance Abuse and Depression: Understanding the Link

Two eye-opening statistics highlight the close relationship between substance abuse and depression:

Because substance abuse and depression often occur together, and one can cause the other, David Leszkowitz, DO, and the caring team at White Lake Family Medicine offer comprehensive care, treating addictions, substance abuse, and behavioral health issues.

You can understand why so many people have both conditions as you learn about the three ways they’re connected.

Dual diagnosis defined

A dual diagnosis (co-occurring disorder) specifically refers to having a mental health disorder along with a substance use disorder.  

You could use drugs, alcohol, or both. And you could have any mental health disorder, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Sometimes, people have more than one psychological condition along with substance abuse.

Connections between substance abuse and depression

Though the interaction between substance abuse and depression is a complex combination of body chemistry, emotions, and psychological challenges, they have three primary connections:

1. Changes in your brain

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that travel between nerves and regulate every aspect of your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

Neurotransmitters tell your muscles to move, increase or decrease pain, and make you sleepy, alert, happy, sad, anxious, and depressed (just a few roles performed by these crucial chemicals).

Substance abuse and depression share some of the same neurotransmitters, but that’s not their only brain connection.

When you keep using drugs or drinking alcohol, your brain’s structure and function change in ways that increase your risk for depression. Additionally, substances like alcohol and opioids depress your central nervous system, which may trigger depression.

At the same time, depression also affects your brain, leading to imbalances in neurotransmitters shared with substances and making your brain more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drugs. In other words, depression increases your risk of developing an addiction.

This two-way connection creates a downward spiral, increasing your need for alcohol or drugs and forcing you into a more profound depression, which then reinforces continued substance use.

That’s why comprehensive care that deals with all the facets of your mental health is the best way to recover from both. 

2. Need to self-medicate

Many people with depression turn to alcohol and/or drugs to lift their mood and feel better. Substance use may help in the short term by calming negative thoughts and other depression symptoms.

But alcohol and drugs don’t treat depression. When the effect of the substance wears off, your depression returns with a vengeance. 

You might consume alcohol or take drugs to help you with challenges other than depression. You may need to boost your courage or self-esteem before social activities. Or, your struggles with anxiety or anger lead you to the point of using a substance before going to school or work.

 In both cases, self-medication starts the same cycle described above. As a result, your depression worsens, and no matter why you started using a substance, it triggers depression.

3. Common risk factors

Risk factors are issues that trigger depression or make you turn to alcohol or drugs. As it turns out, substance use and depression have many of the same risk factors, making you more likely to develop both. 

For example, an imbalance in shared brain chemicals is one common risk factor. Others include stress, trauma, and genetics (depression and substance abuse tend to run in families).

If you need help with substance abuse and depression (or other mental health disorders), don’t wait to learn about outpatient treatments at White Lake Family Medicine by calling the office today or using online booking to schedule a consultation.

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