Thank you to the Drug Rehab team for submitting a two-part guest blog this month. I am super excited about our working together to make mental wellness an international priority!

Depression and Substance Abuse

By Matt Gonzales

Part One: How Depression and Substance Abuse Are Related

Depression is a debilitating mental disorder that affected about 15.7 million adults in the United States in 2014, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). About 6.7 percent of American adults experienced at least one major depressive episode that year. The disorder affects relationships, overall health and performance at work or school. It can cause isolation and panic attacks, preventing individuals from living happy and healthy lives.

To block negative thoughts, many people suffering from depression self-medicate using drugs and alcohol.

These substances numb pain, creating a temporary state of euphoria. However, substance abuse could result in addiction, which creates a new set of problems for the individual.

Link Between Depression and Substance Abuse

About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety disorder, such as depression, have a substance use disorder, according to the ADAA. Depression can lead to substance abuse, and vice versa. People with depression are two to three times more likely to experience addiction than those without the disorder. These diseases do not discriminate. Men, women and people of all ages and races can experience depression or substance abuse. Celebrities such as Owen Wilson, Heath Ledger, Demi Lovato and David Arquette have battled co-occurring disorders involving drugs or alcohol and depression.

Substance abuse provides no cure for depression.

In fact, abuse of drugs and alcohol causes many physical and mental health problems, including:

  • Heightened blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreased coordination and mental sharpness
  • Paranoid thinking
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Chest pain
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Death

Substance abuse can also cause changes in behavior. Individuals struggling with addiction may exhibit violent behavior, have angry outbursts or steal money to support their drug use. Depressed people experiencing addiction may be disinterested in activities they once loved. Time spent going to the movies with friends or playing sports is now used to find or use drugs. Instead of spending time with family members, they isolate themselves and engage in substance abuse. As the cravings for drugs or alcohol strengthen, symptoms of depression — including feelings of discouragement and hopelessness — worsen.

Continued drug use can result in suicidal thoughts, overdose or death.

Depressed People Vulnerable to Addiction

Many people reject the notion that addiction is a disease despite scientific evidence that links substance use disorders with genetics. Research shows some people are more vulnerable to substance abuse than others. Depressed people are particularly vulnerable to substance use disorders. A 2008 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences found that chronic stress, including depression, is a risk factor for the development of addiction and vulnerability for relapse. Those who experience drug or alcohol addiction in combination with depression should seek treatment immediately. Rehab facilities across the country offer scientifically proven treatment methods catered specifically to the patient’s needs, including medication-assisted treatment and 12-step programs.

Battling substance abuse and depression can prove difficult.

Overcoming the associated stigma can be just as hard.

Coming soon: Part Two: Fighting Stigmas of Addiction and Depression, Maintaining Hope

Bio: Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He boasts several years of experience writing for a daily publication, multiple weekly journals, a quarterly magazine and various online platforms. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a Journalism concentration, from East Carolina University.
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