Individuals with unipolar depression (often referred to as major depressive disorder or major depression) experience persistent feelings of sadness or loss of interest in interacting with the world around them. While bipolar depression refers to frequent mood changes between depression and mania, unipolar depression is characterized by negative emotions and feelings rather than a vacillation between two mood states.
Unipolar depression commonly co-exists with substance abuse, and both disorders tend to feed off each other and thereby increase the risk of mental and physical harm. It can sometimes be challenging to determine which condition came first and which was the product of the other. Still, there is almost always a cause-and-effect association between addiction and depression.
Moreover, persons who suffer from addiction also experience depression, and individuals who have depression may turn to self-medication by way of substance use. People also use alcohol or drugs to mask mental health disorders such as unipolar depression and numb or avoid unpleasant emotions.
Repeated alcohol and drug use can eventually result in addiction as individuals continue to self-medicate. Since addiction and unipolar depression are linked, any attempts to stop using drugs or alcohol may exacerbate depression, thus increasing substance abuse recurrence.
Drug Abuse as a Barrier to Unipolar Depression Treatment
Drug addiction is often a hindrance to major depressive disorder treatment as drug abuse requires its own, separate treatment. An individual should not receive mental illness treatment without care and support for their substance use disorder—addictions must also be addressed and treated. Substance use can worsen major depression and make symptoms more severe.
For an individual with co-occurring disorders of depression and substance use, discontinuing intake of drugs or alcohol or decreased the dosage or frequency can exacerbate depressive symptoms.
Effects of Substance Abuse on Unipolar Depression
It is common (albeit misguided) to believe that substance use can relieve depressive symptoms. While the effects of intoxicating substances can provide temporary relief from depressed feelings, consistent substance use can intensify symptoms and produce a chemical imbalance that provokes additional mental health issues.
Alcohol abuse can increase unhappy feelings, guilt, shame, and loneliness. Marijuana use can contribute to depressive symptoms by increasing fatigue, lethargy and reducing the ability to focus. On the other hand, stimulants, such as cocaine or meth, can induce depression by creating chemical imbalances and instigating severe mood swings.
Unipolar Depression and Alcohol
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and may trigger symptoms including fatigue, unhappiness, and despair, although it might initially work as a stimulant. When a person consumes alcohol in excess, it can adversely impact their mood and contribute to their depressive feelings.
Alcohol can also adversely interfere with the actions of psychotropic medications used to treat depression. Physical dependence on alcohol can prolong the time in which a person experiences depression.
Unipolar Depression and Marijuana
It is unclear whether depression triggers marijuana use or if marijuana increases an individual’s sensitivity to depressive disorders. In the short-term, marijuana can seem to reduce symptoms of depression, but overall, symptoms are likely to worsen over time. Also, marijuana has a sedating effect, which can encourage isolation and social withdrawal, thus exacerbating depressive symptoms.
Unipolar Depression and Stimulants
A health provider may prescribe stimulants to a patient whose antidepressant medication does not work to its full capacity. A doctor can add a stimulant to act in combination with antidepressant medication to help raise their mood to its full potential.
Stimulants can also be used independently to treat depression and are most helpful for an individual seeking rapid relief. However, because most stimulants have a high potential for abuse, this poses a risk that individuals may use more stimulants than recommended, hoping that excessive amounts will make them feel even better.
Increasing the dosage amount can increase a person’s tolerance, leading to more severe addiction and longer-lasting and more unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as the individual attempts to discontinue use or reduce the amount of their medication.
Repeated abuse of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, as noted, can cause chemical imbalances and mood swings. The rapid and intense euphoria that these drugs produce ultimately make way for a “comedown” and feeling of tiredness and dysphoria. This effect will persist for some time unless the person uses more of the drug.
Eventually, bingeing on cocaine or meth will lead to a state in which the person can no longer achieve a high. At this time, they will “crash” and will once again be exposed to adverse feelings such as depression.
Statistics on Unipolar Depression and Drug Abuse
- About 33% of people with a depressive disorder use drugs or alcohol.
- According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), about 20% of people in the U.S. with an anxiety or mood disorder also have a substance use disorder.
- According to the federal government’s mental health website, substance use disorder also affects about 25% of adults who have a mental health disorder
- According to SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), in 2014, an estimated 340,000 adolescents ages 12-17 reported having a major depressive episode and a substance use disorder.
Drug Abuse as a Cause for Unipolar Depression
The ultimate source of drug abuse and unipolar depression remains a mystery. When substance abuse becomes unmanageable, it can lead to hopelessness, feelings of despair, and depression. A person battling addiction may feel that their life will never improve, sending them spiraling into a depressed state.
Treatment for Unipolar Depression and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse
Treating co-occurring disorders can be challenging, as symptoms of one disorder often directly impact the other. For this reason, it isn’t easy to promote recovery in one condition without addressing the other. Unipolar depression and co-occurring substance use disorders must be treated both separately and simultaneously so that a health provider can monitor and address symptoms of both disorders.
Our programs feature a wide variety of therapeutic methodologies, services, and activities beneficial for the recovery process, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Cognitive-behavior therapy
- Peer group support
- Individual/family counseling
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Meditation and yoga
- Mindfulness therapy
- Art and music therapy
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning