Last Updated on: 28th February 2024, 01:59 pm

Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Substance Use Disorder

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Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Substance Use Disorder | OC Revive

Substance abuse can intensify feelings of loneliness and depression. This article discusses the relationship between depression and substance use disorders (SUD). It covers how substance use disorders and depression interact. It also covers how depression can raise the likelihood of substance use disorders. You will also learn about the possible treatments as well as the symptoms connected to these diseases.

Can Depression Increase Your Risk of Substance Use Disorders?

Living with depression can lead individuals to engage in self-medication, using alcohol and other substances to alleviate or manage their depressive symptoms. Research indicates that people with depression are nearly twice as likely to self-medicate with alcohol than drugs. There are several common reasons why individuals may resort to self-medication:

Soothing Unwanted Emotions

Feeling sad, lonely, or angry for extended periods can be emotionally draining. Some individuals use alcohol to relax, temporarily escape distress, or numb emotional pain.

Lifting Moods

Depression often impairs the ability to experience happiness or joy, even during positive events. Some individuals may rely on alcohol or other substances to feel good or to feel anything at all.

Improving Sleep

Depression and insomnia often coexist, leading some individuals to seek sedatives for sleep assistance.

Boosting Energy Levels

Depression can deplete energy levels, partly due to sleep disturbances. Some individuals may use stimulants to feel more alert. While alcohol and drugs may temporarily relieve symptoms, they cannot fully eliminate or address the underlying condition. When substance use is discontinued, depression symptoms usually resurface.

Additionally, prolonged substance use may result in tolerance, requiring larger quantities of the substance to achieve the same effect. Over time, dependence on the substance may develop, further increasing the risk of addiction.

Lack of access to mental health care often contributes to higher rates of self-medication among individuals with untreated depression. Early diagnosis of depression and anxiety in young individuals can reduce the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Substance Use Disorder | OC Revive

Can Substance Use Disorders Increase Your Risk of Depression?

Similar to how depression can influence substance use, substance use disorders can also contribute to depression. More severe substance use disorders are more likely to contribute to depressive symptoms. Substance use can affect depression through four main mechanisms:


Certain substances, especially alcohol, can stimulate the short-term release of dopamine, producing pleasurable feelings. However, they can also lead to inflammation in the brain. Inflammation interferes with the brain’s ability to naturally produce mood-boosting chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.


Alcohol and drugs not only reduce levels of mood-boosting chemicals but also elevate stress-related chemicals. For example, individuals who regularly use MDMA may have significantly higher stress hormone cortisol levels than non-users.


Regular use of alcohol or drugs can lead to dependence, causing the brain to rely on these substances to function properly. Abrupt discontinuation of substance use can result in an adjustment period during which the brain struggles to produce adequate levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other essential chemicals.

This adjustment can cause feelings of sadness, numbness, or a loss of interest and pleasure, similar to symptoms of depression. Consequently, individuals may resort to substance use again to feel normal.


Excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs can negatively impact personal and professional life, leading to isolation. Isolation reduces access to emotional support, vital in managing and coping with mental health symptoms. Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing depression.

Symptoms of Depression and Substance Misuse

Depression symptoms vary among individuals but commonly include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Physical aches and pain
  • Agitation
  • Decreased physical activity

Symptoms of substance misuse also vary depending on the substance used and existing mental health conditions. Prolonged substance use can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and personal life, resulting in:

  • Impaired daily functioning
  • Declining physical health
  • Financial strain
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased participation in hobbies
  • Increased isolation and reduced social interaction

Individuals experiencing substance misuse meet one or more addiction criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These criteria include strong urges or cravings, withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation, unsuccessful attempts to control substance use, tolerance, and increased substance use over time.

Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Substance Use Disorder | OC Revive


To diagnose a substance use disorder (SUD), a licensed healthcare or mental health professional must assess an individual based on the criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Individuals who meet 1-2 criteria are typically diagnosed with mild SUD. A diagnosis of moderate SUD has considered if the person meets 3-5 criteria, while meeting 6 or more criteria indicates a severe SUD.

To diagnose depression, mental health professionals or doctors rely on specific guidelines. For instance, a person needs to have experienced a depressive episode lasting longer than 2 weeks and exhibiting the following symptoms to be considered developing depression disorder.

  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Feelings of guilt or low self-worth
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sluggishness or restlessness
  • Difficulty with decision-making or concentration

If an individual presents symptoms of both SUD and depression, a doctor may concurrently diagnose them with both conditions. However, individuals may receive separate diagnoses for each condition in other cases.


Typically, mental health professionals take a comprehensive approach to addressing both substance use disorders (SUD) and depression simultaneously. Since symptoms of these conditions often intersect, their treatments also tend to overlap. Integrating certain medications and therapeutic interventions can effectively target SUD and depression, enhancing overall treatment outcomes.

To ensure optimal results, a personalized treatment plan should be developed by a doctor, considering the individual’s unique conditions and symptoms. The treatment options may include:

Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used form of talk therapy that helps individuals develop new coping strategies by challenging irrational thoughts and modifying behaviors.

Depression Medications

Antidepressant medications aim to improve the brain’s processing of mood-controlling chemicals. Finding the most effective medication with minimal side effects may require some trial and error. In certain cases, combining multiple medications may be recommended for a limited period to enhance effectiveness. It is crucial to inform healthcare providers about co-occurring depression and addiction to devise an appropriate treatment plan that prioritizes sobriety.


Living with depression and substance use disorders can be challenging, and seeking support from organizations and support groups can be beneficial for individuals in managing these conditions. You can also opt for organizations offering programs like Outpatient Rehab (OP) and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP).

These programs help individuals eliminate any harmful behavior they have developed due to peer pressure, genetics, or mental health illnesses. At OC Revive, we ensure our patients get excellent support encouraging them to leave their harmful habits.

Get Help!

Understanding the relationship between depression and substance use disorders is crucial for effective treatment and support. Recognizing the symptoms and available treatments can help individuals seek appropriate help and find healthier ways to cope with their mental health challenges.

If you are looking for credible experts for help,  OC Revive is here to help you. Our fully equipped team of experts can tailor treatment programs based on patients’ needs and requirements. So, if you or your loved one is experiencing depression or SUD, contact us today at (800) 808 6757

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Allyson Lake

Case Manager