People who experience addiction may also have other mental health conditions. Like addiction, a mental health condition is not anyone’s fault. We tend to blame ourselves for these conditions when the reality is that they are complex. Experiencing a mood disorder like depression along with substance use disorder (addiction) is called having a co-occurring condition. It’s essential to treat both substance use disorder and depression in those who experience both conditions.

Let’s take a closer look at substance use disorder and depression, how the conditions interact, how to approach treatment for both.

Understanding Substance Use Disorder and Depression

Substance use disorder is what we commonly refer to as addiction. The definition has changed over the years, but today the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) lists 11 criteria. The DSM is what clinicians use to diagnose people with mental health conditions like substance use disorder and depression. The 11 criteria are:

  • Using more or for longer than planned.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop using, but not being able to.
  • Spending a lot of time on activities related to use.
  • Intense cravings.
  • Having trouble managing commitments due to use.
  • Continuing to use despite causing relationship problems.
  • Giving up important activities due to use.
  • Continuing to use despite it putting you in danger.
  • Continuing to use even if it makes physical or psychological problems worse.
  • Needing more to get the same effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal when not using.

Depression is another mental health condition. Its symptoms include:

  • Sadness.
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Changes in weight.
  • Insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Thoughts of suicide or death.

Both substance use disorder and depression can lead to relating to people and activities in a different way. Someone with one or both conditions may withdraw from friends or family and stop participating in hobbies and social activities. The two conditions can also reinforce one another. We may feel depressed and use a substance to feel better. We may feel depressed because of our substance use or when we experience withdrawal. It becomes a cycle, which is why it’s critical to treat both conditions.

A Look at the Numbers

How often do substance use disorder and depression occur together? The numbers vary depending on the study. In one study discussed in a 2005 Science and Practice Perspectives article titled Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorder: A Complex Comorbidity, researchers found that 32% of people who had a mood disorder had a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. They also found that 18% of people with major depression had a drug use disorder and 16.5% had an alcohol use disorder. Another study cited in the same article found that people with depression were twice as likely to have a substance use disorder as people who didn’t have a mood disorder.

Why Do Substance Use Disorder and Depression Occur Together?

Researchers aren’t sure why substance use disorder and depression occur together. There are a few theories, though. One is self-medicating. People use substances to cope with the symptoms of depression. Alternatively, substance use may also trigger an increase in depression symptoms.

Another theory is that both conditions impact neurological activity. Over time, people need more of a substance to achieve the same effect. People with mood disorders like depression may also find that over time, the depression becomes worse and there are shorter periods where someone is symptom-free. This brain sensitization may increase both substance use disorder and depression.

Researchers have also found genetic risk factors for both substance use disorder and depression. People with family members who have experienced substance use disorder are more likely to experience depression. People with family members who have experienced depression are more likely to experience substance use disorder. Researchers aren’t sure about exactly how our genes make us more vulnerable to these conditions; we just know that there are genetic risk factors.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

If you or a loved one has both substance use disorder and depression, it’s essential to work with a treatment program familiar with co-occurring disorders. Treating both conditions is a critical part of recovery. Treatment programs like New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services can help you achieve sobriety and manage your depression.

At New Life, after an initial phone screening, we do a thorough assessment with each person. For those with a co-occurring disorder like depression, we may also require a psychiatric evaluation to make sure New Life is the best fit for you (if it isn’t, we’ll provide alternate recommendations). We’re experienced in working with people who have a dual diagnosis, and we’ll work with you and your family to help you start on a new path.

We know that cost can be a barrier to treatment. At New Life, we accept many major insurance plans as well as Medicaid. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs. We’re here to help.