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Depression and Substance Abuse: How They Affect Each Other

 In addiction

It is no secret that both depression and substance abuse issues in America. In fact, the World Health Organization, or WHO, reports that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and more than 15 million of those are American adults. It is not really a surprise, then, to learn that approximately 13.8 million Americans have issues with alcohol. This is not to mention other addictive substances or statistics about those under 18. It is difficult to deny that there is a connection between depression and substance abuse, but what is that connection? To understand the combination, we must first understand them separately.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse goes a bit farther than doing drugs or drinking too much. While those are factors, trying a drug or having one too many drinks on the weekend does not qualify as substance abuse. So what is it exactly? The following are some factors that point to substance abuse:

-If you cannot walk away when they are available.

-If you continue using, even if it affects a relationship.

-If your using affects school, work, or other areas of your life.

-If the user needs more and more to reach a “high”.

-If you have tried to quit or cut back but cannot do it.

-If your body actually craves the substance.

-If you are willing to engage in risky behavior just to use.

There are many signs that one is abusing a substance, but those above are some of the common ones.


Many people mistake sadness for depression. Though one may go through sad or depressing times, clinical depression is deeper than that. Those who suffer from depression can go through many moods, often having what is referred to as mood swings. Generally, signs of depression can include:

-Insomnia or oversleeping

-Losing interest in things once loved and enjoyed

-Difficulty concentrating

-Consistently feeling guilty, shameful, or hopeless

-Thinking or talking about suicide

-Chronic fatigue

-Self-hatred and worthlessness

Those are just some of the common signs of depression, though there are others. The cause of depression varies from person to person, and it is difficult to be sure of the exact cause, but there are some common triggers. Genes or chemical imbalances might play a part. Trauma, either present trauma or something remembered suddenly, might trigger depression. A major life change, such as the loss of a loved one, moving, financial problems, and so on are common factors. Even medical events, such as surgeries or life-threatening illnesses, might be the culprit.

The Link Between Two Illnesses

So, how much are depression and substance abuse linked to one another? Current Opinion in Psychiatry reports that about 33% of people who experience a major depressive disorder tend to also participate in substance abuse. That is a rather large percentage. In fact, suffering from substance abuse and a mental illness simultaneously are common enough that there is a term for it: dual-diagnosis. And while there are many ways that substance abuse and depression can affect and feed off of one another, the following is just one scenario to help you get an idea:

A father gets laid off and has no way to care for his family. Being a provider is often a large part of a man’s self-worth. When he is suddenly not able to fulfill that role, he feels worthless. To escape the pain and shame, he heads to the bar to have a few drinks. It eases the pain for the night, but it all comes back in the morning. Again, his self-worth is in shambles, and the only way he can find to feel better is to drink and ease the pain.

And so begins a vicious cycle of addiction. The alcohol makes him feel better for a short time, it does not last. In fact, what seemed like a stimulant the night before is actually a depressant. How many times have seen someone get drunk and burst into tears? Alcohol actually intensifies depression and it impairs your judgment. This can lead to risky behavior and/or additional thoughts of suicide. When the substance has worn off, the feelings are still there but with added guilt and shame from that substance abuse. As you can see, mental illness and substance abuse continually feed off of one another and keep you in a cycle to which you can see no end.

Treatment for Dual-Diagnosis

So, what is the treatment for dual-diagnosis? Obviously, dual-diagnosis treatment requires more than one part. At Lake Hughes Recovery, we approach the treatment from a variety of angles, some of which include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, art therapy, and equine therapy. In psychotherapy, we talk through the addiction and the mental disorder, while trying to find a common link. Talking it out is beneficial to the patient but also to the therapist as it provides insight.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an area where those insights come into play. CBT is designed to help the patient learn different, healthy behaviors and ways of coping with struggles. Both art therapy and equine therapy provide healthy outlets to the patients. Often, when one who struggles with addiction is introduced to more healthy and enjoyable activities, they can use those activities long after treatment to stay on a good path.

If you or a loved one are suffering from dual-diagnosis, Lake Hughes Recovery is here to help. This men’s only treatment center is dedicated to helping our patients live a healthier and more fulfilling life. Give us a call today to discuss how we can help you.

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