The Link Between Depression and Substance Abuse

Depression is a mental disorder that leads to an individual’s despair, hopelessness, and sadness. In severe cases, it can cause suicidal thoughts. What’s more, depression can result in substance abuse, which is quite common. This comorbidity of substance use and depressive symptoms heightens the risk to the patient’s mental health. Actually, statistics indicate there is a relationship between alcohol and depression, as 63.8% [1*]  of alcoholics suffer from major depressive disorder. Read on to understand the link between depression and substance abuse. Do you feel sad and hopeless? Seek professional help at the EZCare Clinic.

Causes of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse occurs when individuals cannot control how they consume alcohol or prescription and non-prescription drugs. Consequently, individuals develop an addiction to these substances.

There are several causes of substance abuse, including the following:

  • Grief.
  • Stress.
  • Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Self-medication, where one takes drugs without the doctor’s intervention.
  • Environmental factors such as being around friends and family who abuse drugs.

Although depression doesn’t always cause substance abuse, statistics indicate that 25% [2*]  of people with depression also have substance use disorders.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse

According to DSM-5 [3*]  (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), signs of substance abuse include:

  • Extended use of substances past the intended stop date.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when one tries to quit using the substance.
  • Inability to stop or control substance consumption.
  • Tolerance to substances.
  • Intense craving for the substance.
  • Anti-social behavior caused by substance use.

Alcohol and Depression: How are They Linked?

Life is typically a combination of highs and lows. However, for people with depression, the low moments occur more frequently and last longer than others. Substances like drugs and alcohol allow people to escape their misery for a brief period. An alcoholic beverage or a few pills seem to help them forget their sadness or despair. Therefore, as they attempt to find happiness through these substances, they become reliant on them.

Alcohol consumption alters an individual’s mood by providing bouts of energy that one usually lacks when sober. It also stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are responsible for the high one experiences after consuming alcohol.

Therefore, it is an appealing self-medication tool for people with depression. They feel like escaping the feelings of guilt, anxiety, or self-resentment. However, self-medicating through alcohol tends to intensify the mental health condition. And before they know it, they realize they’re now battling both depression and addiction. Although these substances initially provide an escape from concerns, eventually, substance abuse worsens the individual’s mental health.

But does alcohol make you depressed on its own? Yes, there is a closer link. Alcohol makes you euphoric by stimulating the release of dopamine and serotonin, but once their levels return to normal, it can lead to feeling down. Consequently, alcoholics are more likely to get depressed as they experience feelings of anxiety, self-loathe, and low moods whenever they’re sober.

See a licensed doctor to discuss your symptoms, get a diagnosis, and start treatment.


Diagnosis of co-occurring conditions like depression and substance abuse requires the expertise of a mental health practitioner. For depression, the patient must experience a low mood and/or loss of interest in activities that last for more than two weeks. Any of the following symptoms should also be present to make it a total of five symptoms for a depression diagnosis:

  • Feelings of shame and low self-esteem.
  • Irritability and agitation.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Inability to think and concentrate.
  • Fatigue.
  • Significant weight changes.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

To diagnose substance abuse, the physician identifies the presence of substance abuse symptoms in a patient:

  • Craving for the specific substance or alcohol.
  • Taking larger doses of the substance because of developing tolerance.
  • Buying drugs or alcohol that are not affordable.
  • Noticing job performance or the quality of personal responsibilities getting worse.
  • Failing to stop taking medication or drinking alcohol.


Generally, a mental health professional will treat depression and substance abuse together. The improvement of one condition significantly affects the other.

Treatment for substance abuse and depression involves using medicine and other methods, depending on the patient’s needs. Some of them include:

  • Medication. A doctor will prescribe antidepressants [4*]  to help one deal with depression. Other medicines are prescribed to help detoxify and overcome withdrawal symptoms of the substance one has been ingesting.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. Through cognitive behavioral therapy [5*] , the patient deals with negative thoughts responsible for substance abuse and depression. The therapist helps to change their behavior by taking charge of their thoughts.
  • Support Groups. An individual dealing with depression and substance abuse requires the support of those around them to deal with these conditions. Furthermore, joining a support group of people dealing with the same situation will help them feel better.
    As others share their stories, patients understand it’s possible to recover from their condition fully. While the patients connect with other people in their support centers, they become intentional about making strides toward getting better.

In Conclusion

Depression and substance abuse may be interconnected. The correlation between the two can lead to living in a vicious cycle where failure to treat any of them leads to the resurgence of the other.

Therefore, patients diagnosed with both conditions should receive treatment and ensure they stick to the doctor’s directions until they recover. At EZcare Clinic, you can get help for depression: contact us today to book an online appointment.


+5 sources
  1. The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and after Treatment for Alcohol Dependence. (2012)
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  2. Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders. (2019)
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  3. DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders: Recommendations and Rationale. (2014)
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  4. Antidepressants. (2023)
    Source link
  5. Developing an Integrated Treatment for Substance Use and Depression Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (2009)
    Source link

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