Depression and Substance Use Disorder

Reviewed May 15, 2017

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Summary

  • Drugs will lift your mood only for a short while.
  • If you are unhappy, it is wise to avoid alcohol and drugs.
     

Does depression make people more likely to use alcohol or drugs? Are people who use them at greater risk to get depression? The answer to both these questions is yes. For some people the mixture is a very deadly one, because depression and drug use can end in taking one's own life. Much is known about the risky relationship between depression and drug use. Here are some of the facts.

Depression and alcohol

People, including depressed people, often turn to alcohol because of the pleasant feelings that a drink can give. It can make you feel relaxed and good. A drink of alcohol starts by increasing dopamine, a brain chemical that lifts your mood. Alcohol is really a depressant. After a while, it lowers brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Your brain needs these in order to avoid depression. If you are unhappy, drinking alcohol will boost your mood only briefly, and then leave you all the more depressed when it wears off.  If you are depressed and thinking about killing yourself, alcohol is even worse. Alcohol is a part of many suicides because it can make it harder to think clearly about your problems and make it more likely that you’ll act on your unhappy feelings.

Depression and other drugs

Like alcohol, some illicit drugs—including cocaine and speed—lift the mood when first used but then drop the person who uses it into painful depression. An unhappy person might turn to these stimulants to feel better, but when the drug effects wear off there is a “crash” that only adds to depression.

Opioids such as heroin or pain pills can also have a very bad effect on depression. At the start, they cause a very good feeling and seem to chase away worries. Their continued use, though, can lower energy. Withdrawal from these drugs can worsen depression, appetite, and sleep.

Marijuana, like these other drugs, can make you feel good at first, but ongoing use has been linked with low energy, anxiety, and apathy.

Often, unhappy people turn to drugs to feel better. The drugs will lift your mood only for a short while. Most often, you will need more and more drugs to get that same lift as time goes on. When the drugs wear off, your depression will be no better. It likely will even be worse. Not only that, but low spirits can hang on for months after you stop using drugs. Your body needs this time to get better from the toxic effects of the drugs.

If you are struggling with a drug problem or think you might be headed in that way, there are lots of great resources for getting help. Please think about talking with your health care provider and/or going to a 12-step meeting (such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) to learn more.

If you are unhappy, it is wise to avoid alcohol and drugs. You can talk with your doctor to get the help that really works for depression. Taking good care of yourself, seeking counseling with a professional who has training with treating drug and alcohol problems, or using the right kind of medications with guidance from a doctor will help you get better more quickly.

If you would like to learn more about drug use and depression, check out the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at www.samhsa.gov. For information on 12-step programs, see: www.aa.org or www.na.org.

By James M. Ellison, MD, MPH
Source: Pary R, Lippmann S, Tobias CR, et al. Depression and alcoholism: clinical considerations in management. South Med J. 1988 Dec;81(12):1529-33; Ward EN. Substance use disorders and late-life depression. In Ellison JM, Kyomen HH, Verma S. Mood Disorders in Later Life. Informa Healthcare, 2008, pp 197-208; http://www.samhsa.gov.
Reviewed by Mario Testani, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Drugs will lift your mood only for a short while.
  • If you are unhappy, it is wise to avoid alcohol and drugs.
     

Does depression make people more likely to use alcohol or drugs? Are people who use them at greater risk to get depression? The answer to both these questions is yes. For some people the mixture is a very deadly one, because depression and drug use can end in taking one's own life. Much is known about the risky relationship between depression and drug use. Here are some of the facts.

Depression and alcohol

People, including depressed people, often turn to alcohol because of the pleasant feelings that a drink can give. It can make you feel relaxed and good. A drink of alcohol starts by increasing dopamine, a brain chemical that lifts your mood. Alcohol is really a depressant. After a while, it lowers brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Your brain needs these in order to avoid depression. If you are unhappy, drinking alcohol will boost your mood only briefly, and then leave you all the more depressed when it wears off.  If you are depressed and thinking about killing yourself, alcohol is even worse. Alcohol is a part of many suicides because it can make it harder to think clearly about your problems and make it more likely that you’ll act on your unhappy feelings.

Depression and other drugs

Like alcohol, some illicit drugs—including cocaine and speed—lift the mood when first used but then drop the person who uses it into painful depression. An unhappy person might turn to these stimulants to feel better, but when the drug effects wear off there is a “crash” that only adds to depression.

Opioids such as heroin or pain pills can also have a very bad effect on depression. At the start, they cause a very good feeling and seem to chase away worries. Their continued use, though, can lower energy. Withdrawal from these drugs can worsen depression, appetite, and sleep.

Marijuana, like these other drugs, can make you feel good at first, but ongoing use has been linked with low energy, anxiety, and apathy.

Often, unhappy people turn to drugs to feel better. The drugs will lift your mood only for a short while. Most often, you will need more and more drugs to get that same lift as time goes on. When the drugs wear off, your depression will be no better. It likely will even be worse. Not only that, but low spirits can hang on for months after you stop using drugs. Your body needs this time to get better from the toxic effects of the drugs.

If you are struggling with a drug problem or think you might be headed in that way, there are lots of great resources for getting help. Please think about talking with your health care provider and/or going to a 12-step meeting (such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) to learn more.

If you are unhappy, it is wise to avoid alcohol and drugs. You can talk with your doctor to get the help that really works for depression. Taking good care of yourself, seeking counseling with a professional who has training with treating drug and alcohol problems, or using the right kind of medications with guidance from a doctor will help you get better more quickly.

If you would like to learn more about drug use and depression, check out the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at www.samhsa.gov. For information on 12-step programs, see: www.aa.org or www.na.org.

By James M. Ellison, MD, MPH
Source: Pary R, Lippmann S, Tobias CR, et al. Depression and alcoholism: clinical considerations in management. South Med J. 1988 Dec;81(12):1529-33; Ward EN. Substance use disorders and late-life depression. In Ellison JM, Kyomen HH, Verma S. Mood Disorders in Later Life. Informa Healthcare, 2008, pp 197-208; http://www.samhsa.gov.
Reviewed by Mario Testani, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Drugs will lift your mood only for a short while.
  • If you are unhappy, it is wise to avoid alcohol and drugs.
     

Does depression make people more likely to use alcohol or drugs? Are people who use them at greater risk to get depression? The answer to both these questions is yes. For some people the mixture is a very deadly one, because depression and drug use can end in taking one's own life. Much is known about the risky relationship between depression and drug use. Here are some of the facts.

Depression and alcohol

People, including depressed people, often turn to alcohol because of the pleasant feelings that a drink can give. It can make you feel relaxed and good. A drink of alcohol starts by increasing dopamine, a brain chemical that lifts your mood. Alcohol is really a depressant. After a while, it lowers brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Your brain needs these in order to avoid depression. If you are unhappy, drinking alcohol will boost your mood only briefly, and then leave you all the more depressed when it wears off.  If you are depressed and thinking about killing yourself, alcohol is even worse. Alcohol is a part of many suicides because it can make it harder to think clearly about your problems and make it more likely that you’ll act on your unhappy feelings.

Depression and other drugs

Like alcohol, some illicit drugs—including cocaine and speed—lift the mood when first used but then drop the person who uses it into painful depression. An unhappy person might turn to these stimulants to feel better, but when the drug effects wear off there is a “crash” that only adds to depression.

Opioids such as heroin or pain pills can also have a very bad effect on depression. At the start, they cause a very good feeling and seem to chase away worries. Their continued use, though, can lower energy. Withdrawal from these drugs can worsen depression, appetite, and sleep.

Marijuana, like these other drugs, can make you feel good at first, but ongoing use has been linked with low energy, anxiety, and apathy.

Often, unhappy people turn to drugs to feel better. The drugs will lift your mood only for a short while. Most often, you will need more and more drugs to get that same lift as time goes on. When the drugs wear off, your depression will be no better. It likely will even be worse. Not only that, but low spirits can hang on for months after you stop using drugs. Your body needs this time to get better from the toxic effects of the drugs.

If you are struggling with a drug problem or think you might be headed in that way, there are lots of great resources for getting help. Please think about talking with your health care provider and/or going to a 12-step meeting (such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) to learn more.

If you are unhappy, it is wise to avoid alcohol and drugs. You can talk with your doctor to get the help that really works for depression. Taking good care of yourself, seeking counseling with a professional who has training with treating drug and alcohol problems, or using the right kind of medications with guidance from a doctor will help you get better more quickly.

If you would like to learn more about drug use and depression, check out the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at www.samhsa.gov. For information on 12-step programs, see: www.aa.org or www.na.org.

By James M. Ellison, MD, MPH
Source: Pary R, Lippmann S, Tobias CR, et al. Depression and alcoholism: clinical considerations in management. South Med J. 1988 Dec;81(12):1529-33; Ward EN. Substance use disorders and late-life depression. In Ellison JM, Kyomen HH, Verma S. Mood Disorders in Later Life. Informa Healthcare, 2008, pp 197-208; http://www.samhsa.gov.
Reviewed by Mario Testani, MD, Physician Advisor, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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