Depression and Drug Abuse

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

It is increasingly clear that there is a direct connection between drug abuse and depression. Any number of problems can cause depression including high levels of stress, personal problems, financial difficulties and unemployment among others. The low self esteem and poor self concept that accompany depression cause some people to turn to drugs as a way to escape these negative feelings.

Drug abuse is less clear a term than depression but is usually meant to describe those substances that alter mood, perception and cause addiction. Sometimes these are prescription medications that are used for purposes other than what was intended and sometimes they are illegal substances such as cocaine and others. Ironically, the very drugs that may temporarily help a user to escape their negative feelings end up intensifying those same feelings. The result is that depression worsens and, as the addiction takes hold, people are compelled to continue abusing the drug just to try to regain some sense of normality.


Depression can also worsen from drug abuse because these substances can alter brain chemistry. In other words, depression can result in drug addiction and addiction can result in depression. There are many specialists in the field of drug addiction who believe that it’s unrealistic to try to treat someone for addiction without treating for depression.

In 2012 Duke University researchers found that teenagers who responded well to treatment for Major Depression had lower chances of getting involved in future drug abuse. In the study reviewed by Duke University, only 10% of those whose depression improved as a result of treatment later turned to drugs. By contrast, 25% of those whose depression did not improve turned to substance abuse. In essence, everyone who responded to depression treatment were at reduced risk for drug abuse.

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None of this is to suggest that there is a causal relationship between depression and addiction. However, there seems to be a strong positive correlation. It makes sense that various therapies for depression be used along with drug rehab treatment. It was once thought that treatment for depression and other emotional problems should not be started until the individual is free of abuse. However, if treatment for depression can reduce the chances of future abuse then it makes sense to have a combination of drug and depression treatment.

It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone who is depressed turns to drug abuse. This is far from the truth. Also, not all drug abusers were depressed at the time they started abusing substances. It is just that the presence of depression may increase the risk of addiction.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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