Does Depression Lead to Substance Abuse?

2 min read · 2 sections

Clinical depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder, is a serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms, which impact how an individual handles daily activities, how they think, and how they feel.1

Depression can look different for everyone who experiences it. It may involve changes in mood or behavior. For some, depression  may include an increased use of drugs or alcohol.1 While not everyone who is diagnosed with depression misuses drugs or alcohol, being diagnosed with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders is not uncommon.2

At American Addiction Centers (AAC), we treat both substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. If you or a loved one struggle with depression and/or substance misuse or addiction, call to speak to one of our knowledgeable admissions navigators, who can help you get the treatment you need.


Depression isn’t just about being sad. There’s more to it than people may think. Depression symptoms need to last two weeks or longer to be diagnosed as depression.1 A Woman working at desk holding her head.diagnosis should be done by a licensed mental healthcare provider. Symptoms need to be present nearly every day for the majority of the day for at least 14 days and may include:1

  • Feelings of hopelessness.
  • Pessimism.
  • Feelings of helplessness, guilt, or worthlessness.
  • Irritability.
  • Decreased energy.
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities and hobbies.
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  • Loss of appetite or an increase in appetite, which may lead to changes in weight.
  • Moving or talking more slowly.
  • Persistent “empty,” anxious, or sad mood.
  • Aches and pains without a clear reason for their cause.
  • Difficulty making decisions, concentrating, or remembering.
  • Oversleeping or difficulty sleeping.

Not every individual who suffers from depression experiences every symptom, and the number of symptoms varies for individuals.

Additionally, there are different forms of depression—some of which may develop as a result of specific circumstances. The various types of depression include:1

  • Postpartum depression, which is depression that develops after the birth of a baby.
  • Persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymia, consists of less severe symptoms that last for much longer, usually at least 2 years.
  • Seasonal affective disorder is depression that comes and goes with the seasons with symptoms typically presenting in the late fall or early winter but disappearing by spring.
  • Psychotic depression is depression with psychosis symptoms, meaning the individual experiences delusions (disturbing, false fixed beliefs) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there).
  • Bipolar disorder is a disorder in which an individual experiences depressive episodes, where they feel sad or indifference and have very low activity levels, but also manic episodes, where they feel very happy or irritable and have increased activity levels.

Treatments for depression include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. If these options prove not to be effective, brain stimulation therapies—some of which have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression—may be explored.1

Substance Misuse Mixed with Depression

According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 21.5 million adults in the United States have a co-occurring disorder.2 Research indicates that individuals with comorbid depression and substance use disorders suffer greater functional impairment, poorer medical outcomes, increased morbidity and mortality, and greater risk for suicide compared to individuals with depression alone.3

Studies show that substance use may drive severe depression initially. Similarly, a depressed mood may contribute to the initial use of substances to cope and lead to a substance use disorder.3

Statistics on depression and alcohol include the following:4

  • Lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorder in those with lifetime major depressive disorder range from about 27% to 40%.
  • The prevalence of major depressive disorder in individuals with current alcohol use disorder (past 12 months) ranges from 4% to 22%.

If you or a loved one struggle with an alcohol or substance use and co-occurring mental health disorder, you’re not alone. We’re here. There are resources available to help you achieve long-term sobriety and to live a healthy and productive life. Our admissions navigators at AAC can listen to your story, explain your options, answer your questions, and help you get on the path to recovery. Call today.

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