“Chronic depression” may be diagnosed if an individual experiences depression symptoms for two years or more. Depression symptoms may be mild, as in dysthymia, or more severe, as in chronic major depression. In some cases, severity of symptoms may change.

A cyclical relationship exists between drugs, drinking and depression, as people with addictions often develop depression, and depressed individuals may turn to substance abuse to find relief.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Depression

Substance abuse and depression have a high degree of comorbidity; that is, they often occur together. Individuals with substance abuse problems may be more likely to develop depression because of biological changes in the brain.

Depressed individuals are also more likely to turn to drug and alcohol abuse to self-medicate and cope with depressionÕs emotional and physical symptoms. For example, the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that youths age 12 to 17 who had a major depressive episode in the last year were twice as likely as non-depressed peers to initiate use of illicit drugs and alcohol.

Drugs, Alcohol, Depression and the Brain

Drugs, drinking and depression all change emotion and behavior by changing the function of neurotransmitters in the brain. These chemicals help transmit messages through the brain to affect diverse processes, including:

  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Pleasure-seeking behavior
  • Sleep.

Neurotransmitter changes associated with drug abuse and problem drinking can cause depression. Alcohol inhibits neurotransmission and is considered a depressant. Other drugs, called “stimulants,” have excitatory effects on neurotransmission; returning to lower levels of neurotransmission after taking them can eventually lead to depression. Use of any of these substances changes neurotransmitter activity.

Treating Depression and Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Antidepressant medications are often effective for treating symptoms of depression. However, itÕs dangerous to drink alcohol while on antidepressants–side effects may be intensified, your depression symptoms way worsen, and you may feel stronger effects from the alcohol. Alcohol can also have a dangerous interaction with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a specific type of antidepressant.

Psychotherapy may be particularly effective for people battling both substance abuse and depression. While depression may be at the root of alcohol and drug use, substance abuse can contribute to the development of chronic depression or exacerbate its symptoms.

Addressing chronic depression is also often a factor in addiction treatment. The depression may be a contributing factor to drug use, meaning that relapse is likely to occur if depression symptoms aren’t addressed. Psychotherapy addresses some of these behavioral aspects of both conditions, and can help treat them together.


Brendel, D. (2008). What is the relationship between depression and substance abuse? Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the ABC News website: abcnews.go.com/Health/DepressionScreening/story?id=4355978.

Dombeck, M. (2002). How drugs affect the brain. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the MentalHealth.net website: www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=1059.

Hall-Flavin, D. (n.d.). Antidepressants and alcohol: What is the concern? Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: www.mayoclinic.com/health/antidepressants-and-alcohol/an01653.

Harding, A. (2009). Treating substance abuse and depression effective. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the Reuters website: www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5214PQ20090302.

National Institute on Drug Abuse Staff. (n.a.). NIDA infofacts: Understanding drug abuse and addiction. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse website: nida.nih.gov/Infofacts/understand.html.

Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2007). National survey on drug use and health. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from the OAS-SAMHSA website: www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k7/newuserdepression/newuserdepression.htm.

 Posted on : June 26, 2014