depression and addiction

What is Depression?

Depression is a common mood disorder that negatively impacts thoughts and emotions. Depression causes feelings of sadness, lethargy, and a loss of interest in once-enjoyable things. Depression has been linked to emotional and physical problems that affect the ability to function at work or home. Depression has a significant impact on one’s life, but it is treatable and there are resources available.

How Common is Depression?

According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), approximately 7.8% of U.S. adults (19.4 million people) struggle with major depression each year.​​​1

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Common depression symptoms may include:

  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling withdrawn from everyday activities
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Slowed movements or speech
  • Feeling worthless
  • Trouble focusing
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

How is Depression Diagnosed?

Beck Depression Inventory

The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a twenty-one-item test that covers the characteristics, attitudes, and symptoms of depression. The BDI has shown to have a high effectiveness rate in diagnosing depression (86% effectiveness rate), and it’s a common tool used for psychiatric evaluations.​​​2


The DSM-5 is a depression test that outlines a set of criteria associated with depression. This test is widely used by physicians and psychiatrists to diagnose depression, and it has a high rate of effectiveness when it comes to accurately diagnosing depression.

How Are Depression and Addiction Connected?

There is a wide overlap between addiction and depression. Studies have shown that approximately one-third of patients with major depressive disorder also struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD). When these conditions are combined, they feed into one another. Both must be treated at the same time to get the best results.

Depression Leading to Drug Use

Those with depression will often look for ways to cope. Drugs are used for self-medication against the symptoms of depression. Drug use may feel like a temporary escape from depressive feelings, but self-medication will lead to dependence on those substances.

Withdrawal Leading to Depression

When substance use is cut off, withdrawal symptoms set in. One of the more common withdrawal symptoms is depression. This is due to a mental and physical dependence formed for the substance. Withdrawal symptoms are rough on the body and the mind, so proper addiction treatment is necessary when going through a detox process.

DAD Effect

The DAD effect (Depression, Addiction, and Denial) is a growing problem that makes it difficult to diagnose one with depression. Those struggling with addiction and depression often strive to cover up the problem, which leads to negative stigmas surrounding both disorders. The DAD effect is common in those who have high functioning depression. High-functioning depression symptoms will be less severe and less noticeable, but they will still harm someone’s mental health and well-being. This can lead to a tendency to deny that the symptoms exist, since the person struggling with high functioning depression may act relatively normal.

Depression co-occurring with Common Addictions

Depression often co-occurs with common addictions such as alcohol, stimulants (cocaine and amphetamines), opioids, and sedatives. Such substances are used for the same purpose of self-medication to cope with depression. Ways to treat dual a diagnosis of depression and addiction include:


CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is one of the most common forms of therapy for the treatment of addiction and depression. Behavioral therapy helps one reshape their negative behaviors, such as substance abuse, into more positive outlets and coping mechanisms. Therapy can also uncover any other underlying issues that may be causing depression and addiction to occur.


EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of therapy that’s meant to help someone deal with trauma. Traumatic events can be the main cause of both addiction and depression, and treatment of that trauma can help resolve these ongoing issues.


Medication can also be used during the treatment process to help alleviate depression or substance withdrawal symptoms. These medications can be very effective for successful treatment and make the recovery process more comfortable.

Warning Signs of Addiction

There are common signs and symptoms used to recognize addiction:

Hiding Substance Use

Those who are struggling with addiction may try to hide their substance use. This can cause them to act in a secretive manner and lead to them keeping hidden stashes of drugs or alcohol.

Using Substances to Cope

Those who are struggling with addiction may be using substances to cope with other aspects of their life. They may have a dependence on the substance and feel they need it for a sense of normalcy.

Using Too Much Medication

Using higher doses of medication than prescribed is one of the leading causes and signs of addiction. If someone frequently takes high doses of a prescription drug, they will build tolerance and dependence on that medication. A higher tolerance means higher doses are needed to feel the same effect.

Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

If someone stops taking a drug and experiences withdrawal symptoms, they likely have formed a dependence on that substance. They will experience cravings for the drug, which is a sign of addiction.

Obsessing Over the Substance

Obsession with a substance is a sign of dependence on that drug. Such an obsession can lead to drug-seeking and irrational behavior which can cause negative life consequences.

Using at Inappropriate Times

If someone has an addiction, they may use the substance at inappropriate times such as at work, school, or odd times of the day. This is often a sign that they are using the substance to cope with other issues or to feel some sense of normalcy.

Losing Interest in Other Activities

Addiction can make someone feel withdrawn and feel a lack of energy for other activities. This can lead to issues with work, school, or relationships.

Trying to Quit Without Success

Failure to quit is likely a sign of addiction. Resources can be used to put one on the right track for recovery.

Most Common Types of Depression

Depression can come in different forms and severities. It’s important to know the type of depression that someone is struggling with to find the best treatment.

Major Depression

Major depressive disorder is a serious form of depression. It’s characterized by depressive symptoms that occur over a longer period.​​​3 Common medical guidelines state that a major depressive episode is one where the symptoms last for more than two weeks. Major depression can be chronic and requires medical treatment for the best results.


Dysthymia is also known as persistent depressive disorder.​​​4 Dysthymia is characterized by long-term depressive symptoms that can last for years and affect numerous aspects of someone’s life. There are many treatments available that can help someone learn to cope and manage dysthymia to live a normal and happy life.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by symptoms of depression that occur during the winter months.​​​5 It is important to be aware of seasonal affective disorder so one can receive proper treatment for depression during these times of the year.

Atypical Depression

Atypical depression is a specific sub-type of major depression or dysthymic depressive disorder. Atypical depression is a reactive depressive disorder characterized by changes in mood when something positive or negative happens in someone’s life. The main difference between atypical depression and major depression is that when something good happens in one’s life, a person with major depression won’t have their mood change. One with atypical depression, though, will see a significant improvement in their mood.

You Can Overcome Depression and Addiction

Both depression and addiction can be overcome. These issues have a major impact on one’s life, and signs and symptoms must be recognized to find proper help. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and addiction, there are resources available. Speaking to a medical professional or going to a treatment center is a good first step on the road to recovery.


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