Our Latest Blogs

6 Ways That Depression May Lead to Substance Abuse

Depression is a mood disorder that can wreak havoc on your life. It comes with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, numbness, and isolation. It is this numbness, the inability to feel anything at all, that drives many people to substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol provide a shock to the brain so that suddenly, after months of living under a blanket of depression, feelings emerge once again.

Though the newfound feelings are direct effects of the substance, the depressed person may find relief and comfort in them.

Many substance abuse issues start with someone trying to self-medicate depression or anxiety. While drugs and alcohol may change things in the short term, in the long run it will only make them worse. Once the euphoria wears off, all those emotions and feelings of depression come rushing back.

6 Ways Depression May Lead To Substance Abuse

It is important to note that depression itself is not a cause of addiction. Instead, depression, which is caused by many complex factors, makes a person more vulnerable to addiction. The inability to cope with life stressors and difficult feelings is one of the underlying factors of depression and, coincidentally, addiction too.

Mood disorders and addiction seemingly go hand in hand in this way. If you or a loved one are experiencing the gripping effects of depression, then be aware of the ways in which it can lead to an addiction.

To help you identify the warning signs, here are six ways that people with depression can end up with addiction problems:

1. They Are Scared To Ask For Help

Many people are afraid to ask for help when they are dealing with depression. As self-esteem plummets and the desire to do basically anything at all diminishes, the thought of asking for help can become overwhelming. Mood disorders notoriously come with undue shame and guilt, further isolating the person from potential help.

The difficulty with mood disorders, though, is that the symptoms aren’t always very easy to identify. So even if the person musters the courage to ask for help, it can be intimidating to try to describe the vague lack of interest that has developed.


2. They Don’t Realize It Is Depression

The effects of depression can creep up on a person so slowly that they might not even realize what they are dealing with. The unbearable exhaustion that comes with depression may lead some people to stimulants in order to get through the work day. The numbness and disinterest that depression usually brings can quickly be reversed with a bottle of wine or an opioid.

When the person does not recognize that he or she is actually dealing with depression, these unhealthy coping mechanisms become the norm.

While it is common for the blues to come after a battle with sickness, death, or some other major life event, lingering symptoms for longer than six months should warrant attention. Raising awareness of mental illness and the symptoms involved is essential to ending alternative treatment methods, such as substance use.


3. Many Are Afraid Of Psychiatric Drugs

Though psychiatric medication are among the most commonly prescribed in the pharmaceutical industry, many people still fear its damaging effects. Many people are afraid that they will not be able to handle the side-effects, or they fear that it will change their personality or ability to function.

One of the reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol is because they feel safer with these substances, especially if they have previously used them. These substances provide an instant fix without engaging in a conversation about what their symptoms might actually imply (i.e. mental health issue).


4. They Fear the Stigma

As far as the world has advanced in the knowledge of mental health issues, there still exists a negative stigma regarding mental health issues. Naturally, this stigma causes many to stay silent during their struggle. They fear what others will say, think, or feel about them. They fear that there will not be support for them, both socially and medically.

The astonishing fact is that over 20 million people in the US are living with mood disorders, making it an incredibly prevalent issue. Though mood disorders touch virtually every household in the US by one way or another, this fear and negative stigma surrounding mental health issues persists. Rather than ask for help and openly talk about their difficulties, many people turn to substances to provide some immediate relief. After all, oxycodone may be seen as more socially acceptable than, say, therapy.


5. They Feel Unworthy of Getting Better

Depression does many things to a person but perhaps the most damaging thing of all is the way it completely eliminates a person’s self-worth. Ruminating thoughts and low neurotransmitter flow can lead a person down a rabbit hole of self-loathing. While this is mostly an unconscious endeavor, it seriously interferes with the person’s motivation to get better.

When a person feels unworthy of unhappiness, they have less to stop them from substance abuse. A person that is generally happy and demonstrates high self-esteem will not use substances in order to treat depressive symptoms, making him or her much less likely to become addicted. For this reason, developing high self-esteem during addiction recovery is one of the primary goals.


6. They Feel Professionals Can’t Help

A major barrier to treatment for many is the belief that it is ineffective. Talk therapy and dream analysis is often the presumed treatment method during therapy. Though these methods can certainly be used to treat mood disorders, they are only a tiny part of holistic treatment.

Proper treatment will help the individual develop healthy coping mechanisms in order to better handle life stressors. It will also teach the individual ways to effectively manage depressive symptoms so that they don’t spiral out of control. Therapy can definitely heal old wounds, but it can also help the individual manage daily struggles, too.


Whenever both depression and addiction are discussed together, the question of which comes first always arises. The basic disease model of addiction says that substance abuse changes the brain so drastically that it cannot regulate itself. For many, heavy substance abuse can certainly lead to depression. For others, depression paves the way to addiction. In order not to fall victim to both, it is important to realize how the two might be connected.


If you or someone you know is showing signs of co-occurring mental health and addiction issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

Contact a Resource Specialist

Author Bio: Bill Weiss is an advocate of long-term sobriety. As a member of the recovery community, he feels it is important to spread awareness of alcohol and drug misuse in America. Being personally affected and having family members struggling, it is a personal quest of Bill’s to bring the facts about substance misuse to light, informing America on this epidemic.


The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.

Recommended for You

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 thoughts on “6 Ways That Depression May Lead to Substance Abuse

  1. Bobby Saint says:

    You made a good point that it is sometimes difficult to identify depression that can possibly lead to substance abuse because the person is normally scared to ask for help. It is always best to seek consultation with an expert to get the help you need. If I were in the same situation, I would definitely reach out to someone before it gets worse. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *