There is a definite link between depression and substance abuse. It’s extremely common for people with addiction issues to also struggle with a mental health diagnosis such as depression. Substance abuse disorder is a stigmatized condition where the addict commonly experiences feelings of guilt and shame. In this way, abusing substances can lead to depression.

Depression can also lead to substance abuse. Depression can cause you to have periods where your mood and energy levels are extremely low. It can also cause feelings of numbness. It’s no wonder that in an attempt to “feel something”, people with depression turn to drugs and alcohol.

To learn more about how depression and substance abuse are linked, keep reading.

At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier habits and build a life in long term recovery.

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Possible Links Between Depression and Substance Abuse

There are multiple possible things that link depression and substance abuse. Substance abuse can cause your brain chemistry to change. Drastic and sudden changes in brain chemistry can lead to mental health conditions such as depression.

Many narcotics that are sold on the street are often “cut” with a myriad of different substances. You never know what you are really getting when you buy drugs on the street. You can’t ever be sure about street drugs’ potency.

In this way, you are never really able to take street drugs safely. Depending on what street drugs are cut with, your brain chemistry may alter the way your brain functions permanently.

Self-medication is another link between depression and substance abuse. Many antidepressants take time to start working. Sometimes depression symptoms may get worse before they get better.

This often causes people to give up on their attempts to use prescribed antidepressants to help their depression symptoms. Many substances that are used to self-medicate often yield quick results.

For instance, Xanax can alleviate incredibly anxious feelings within minutes. Heroin can take away severe emotional pain with one shot from a needle. Since these drugs are “fast-acting”, their potential for abuse is high.

It’s easy to see why someone with severe depression symptoms would want to use a substance that could alleviate those symptoms quickly. However, when you abuse drugs and alcohol, you are only attempting to treat the symptoms.

You aren’t getting down to the core issue. This often leads people to feeling worse in the long run.

There are also 2 risk factors that depression and substance abuse share. They are stress and trauma. When one or both of these are present with a person, the likelihood of them having depression and addiction issues increases.

Depression and Substance Abuse Symptoms

Depression symptoms may vary from person to person. However, some common ones include:

  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Feelings of agitation
  • Less physical activity

Symptoms of substance abuse also vary from person to person. However, some general ones include:

  • Daily functioning becomes impaired. For instance, a person may stop taking care of their hygiene needs
  • Drastic and sudden physical changes such as lack of sleep or sudden weight gain or weight loss.
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble with finances
  • Reduced social interaction
  • Cutting off communication with family


In order to get an official diagnosis for a mental health condition such as depression, you’ll need to see a mental health professional. Through different types of assessment tools, they will be able to make an accurate diagnosis.

However, when it comes to substance abuse, things can be a little trickier. Many people would say that only you can diagnose yourself as an alcoholic/addict. It requires you to be extremely honest with yourself.

If you have a substance abuse issue then you need to look at the amount of control you have once you start using mind-altering substances. Are you able to have one drink and go home from the bar? Are you able to do this regularly?

Also, pay attention to how long your “binges” last. If it’s keeping you from doing things such as going to work or school or visiting with friends and family, chances are high that you have a substance abuse issue.

Another important thing to examine in an effort to discover whether or not you have a substance abuse issue or not is any attempts you’ve made to stop using/drinking. Have you experienced a negative consequence due to substance abuse and vowed to never use/drink again? Have you made these vows and then continued to use/drink anyways?

If the answer is yes, you are probably more powerless over your addiction than you think.

Many addiction specialists and addicts in recovery can help you figure out whether or not you’re an addict, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to make the ultimate assessment.


It’s becoming more common for inpatient facilities to treat patients with a dual diagnosis. This means they focus on treating a mental health condition such as depression at the same time as substance abuse issues (such as a crystal meth addiction).

For severe cases, an inpatient facility is usually the best place to start. This gives patients a usual stay anywhere from 30 to 90 days where a detailed and individualized treatment plan regarding their substance abuse and depression can be devised.

From this treatment plan, steps can be followed that will give the patient a high chance of getting sober and managing their depression symptoms in a healthy way.

An inpatient stay will also give different medications a chance to work. As was stated earlier, many antidepressants take time before they really start to work. Many people give up on them before they begin to work and turn to self-medicating.

Medication is not a “fix-all.” However, when used in conjunction with therapy and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the chance to recover and lead a happy and healthy life increases.

The hardest thing about getting help can be asking for help. However, (as a part of their own recovery) there are many people who have gone through the struggles of having depression and substance abuse issues and are happy to help.

IOP at ASIC Recovery

Looking for substance abuse treatment in Texas? At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network. Click to learn more.