Depression Co-Occurring With Substance Use

Depression Co-Occurring With Substance Use

Depression often co-occurs with other medical conditions such as substance use disorder (SUD). According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America’s article on “Substance Use,” over 20% of Americans living with SUD also currently live with a mood disorder, such as anxiety and depression.

The combination of mood and SUDs can make treatment and recovery more complicated to navigate. However, such disorders can be clinically treated together.

Treating mental health and SUDs together is essential for effective treatment. While we can be quick to judge someone who abuses substances such as alcohol and drugs, there are often other underlying mental health issues that can take control over an individual’s willpower.

A Common Comorbidity

According to Science & Practice Perspectives, treating a client’s co-occurring mood disorders can reduce their substance cravings and enhance their overall health outcomes. Communication and collaboration between providers of substance addiction and mental health services are essential to improve outcomes for clients with these complex, challenging co-occurring disorders.

This study indicates that there are several theories to explain the high occurrence of SUDs and mood disorders. These theories include self-medication, genetics, and substance use withdrawal symptoms such as depression.


A standard theory that links substance use and mood disorders is self-medication. People who struggle with mood disorders such as depression and lack the resources to receive proper care often find comfort in substances that alter their state of mind.

“For example, some psychologists suggest that people with uncontrollable feelings of rage and aggression may choose opiates for these drugs’ mellowing effects, while people who are depressed may take cocaine because it exhilarates and energizes them.”

While substances can initially appear to help balance mood disorders, abusing substances can cause dependence and lead to further mental health problems.

According to the study, while mood disorders can cause substance abuse as a form of medication, initial SUDs can also cause mood disorders. Substance use can trigger symptoms of mood disorders as a result of the changes that occur in the brain.

Genetic Factors

Another theory that links co-occurring depression with substance abuse is related to genetics. Studies indicate that those who have relatives with SUDs are more at risk of developing mood disorders and SUD. Such genetics make individuals vulnerable to mental health issues and can lead to SUD and mood disorders.

Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal

Common drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms include depression and mania. Depressive episodes can also lead to anxiety and, as a result, cause individuals to continue using substances to prevent unwanted feelings. This can create a complicated cycle that requires medical attention.

Treating Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorders

According to, “More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance use problem.” Due to both disorders commonly occurring together, treatment is essential for each mental health and substance use-related disorder.

Studies show that those who have both mental health disorders and substance disorders require much more extensive and more prolonged treatment. Treatment for these disorders can include rehabilitation, medications, support groups, and talk therapy.

According to Science & Practice Perspectives, people struggling with mood disorders and SUDs are also at greater risk for suicide. Substance misuse negatively affects mood disorders’ course and prognosis, resulting in more frequent hospitalizations and symptoms resistant to therapy. As a result, treatment is crucial, and some people may need more extensive treatment options to reduce symptoms.

Psychotherapeutic Treatment

According to Science & Practice Perspectives, behavioral approaches when treating mood disorders are the foundation of treatment for patients with SUD. Recovery from both disorders may benefit significantly by learning and developing self-confidence in one’s capacity to self-regulate subjective moods.

Self-regulating moods can help clients break the cycle of using substances to help cope with unwanted feelings. Clients with co-occurring disorders should also be encouraged by their doctors to join 12-Step programs or other support groups that promote the proper use of psychotropic medicines.


Treatment options have increased for individuals with SUD and mood disorders in the past decade. Considering the frequency of these disorders, mental health treatment professionals and local physicians need to develop a robust collaborating relationship for better treatment outcomes.

Prudence typically requires delaying the administration of a depressive mood stabilizer to a client with SUD until after detoxification. By doing this, the client spares the expense and risk of medication when their symptoms could go away on their own in a matter of days or weeks. In more severe cases of depression, early pharmacotherapeutic intervention may be justified.

Common medications that are used to treat depression include antidepressants. These types of medications can improve the way the brain uses certain chemicals to control mood and stress.

Mood disorders such as depression commonly co-occur with substance use disorders (SUDs). To effectively treat someone’s mood disorder, it is essential also to treat SUD and vice versa. According to research, treating a client’s mood disorders can help reduce substance cravings and enhance their overall treatment outcomes. Having mood disorders and SUD puts individuals at risk of suicide and requires extensive treatment. If you or a loved one are struggling with co-occurring depression and SUD, Brazos Recovery is here to help. Our program offers detox services, long-term residential care, intensive outpatient programs, and sober living options. Our community-driven environment can help you find long-lasting recovery from depression and SUD. Combining evidence-based therapy and the Twelve Steps, we can help you discover freedom from the grips of addiction. For more information on our program and how we can help you, call Brazos Recovery at (254) 232-1550.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.