How Depression and Addiction Work With Each Other

Mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) are connected and frequently occur together. SUD impacts your risk of developing mental health disorders and vice versa. Additionally, mental illness can affect how treatment will look for you. Depression is a mental health disorder that affects many individuals and interacts with substance use. If you struggle with depression and SUD, treatment can help you heal from both. 

Dual diagnosis treatment from a trusted professional facility can help you improve your mental health while recovering from SUD. This treatment addresses the symptoms and causes, treating you as a whole person. 


As a serious mood disorder, depression affects how you feel, think, and manage daily activities like work, family obligations, and self-care. Every person's experience with depression is unique. Their symptoms vary depending on the type and severity of depression. However, common symptoms often include the following:

  • Physical aches and pains without a clear cause
  • Unplanned weight or appetite changes
  • Changes to normal sleep routine—more or less sleep
  • Thinking about death or suicide
  • Suicide attempts 
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Consistent fatigue or feeling of being slowed down
  • Persistent low energy and lack of focus 
  • Irritability, frustration, hopelessness, or restless
  • Consistent feelings of sadness or emptiness

While each individual will experience depression differently, it might be depression if you have some of these symptoms daily for at least two weeks. Working with a professional is the best way to know and get help. 

How Depression Impacts SUD

Depression, like other mental health disorders, commonly co-occurs with SUD. Researchers have found this is true in all age groups, including adolescents. There are many reasons why depression and SUD are commonly found together. Below we will discuss a few reasons and how they interact.  


A common reason why SUD is found in those with depression is that drugs and alcohol are often used as a way to self-medicate. When first experiencing symptoms of depression, it can be easy to brush them off as just being tired or out of your routine. Perhaps you have recently moved, changed jobs, lost a loved one, or experienced another significant life event that may cause you to feel different than your norm. To keep up, you may reach for coffee, energy drinks, and eventually, drugs and alcohol. 

It is understandable to want to keep up with your life. The drive to keep going is ultimately positive. However, using drugs and alcohol to maintain your ability to function can result in physical dependency on substances. Instead, learning self-care will help you address your physical and emotional needs. Doing so allows you to heal from both depression and SUD. 

Changes in the Brain

Both SUD and depression can cause changes in the brain. The changes that occur alongside depression and other mental health disorders play a role in SUD. This is thought to occur because changes may enhance the positive feelings when you use drugs or alcohol. As such, substances become more addictive as they have a stronger result on your body. 

Feeding off Each Other

Ultimately, the goal of reaching for drugs and alcohol is to feel better. At its core, this is a good goal. However, using drugs and alcohol as the means to that end is problematic.

Depression and SUD feed off each other. While drugs and alcohol may provide temporary relief over symptoms, over time, they can make them worse. With worsening symptoms, you may turn to more substances more frequently, creating an ongoing cycle of more and more use followed by worse and worse symptoms. 

SUD can also lead to changes in the brain, which impact depression and overall mental health. It can help to think of the brain and body as a living system. Your choices today can impact your brain and body in multiple dimensions. As such, you must affect how your brain functions by holistically caring for yourself. 

Getting Help for Depression and SUD

Healing from depression and SUD is complex. They both require learning to care for your needs in ways that do not include drugs or alcohol. On the surface, this sounds simple. However, it is quite a complicated endeavor and will look different for each individual. 

The best way to find what works for you is to seek help. Working with a facility or professional can help you address the root of the problem and learn to live your life with the balance to support your needs. You will learn how to manage your mental health by working one-on-one or with a group and potentially using medication to manage depression or other mental health issues.

Working with a trusted professional facility can also help you detox in a safe and supported facility. After detox, you will learn how to care for your needs practically, giving you tools for real-life recovery. 

Do you struggle with depression and addiction? If so, know that you are not alone. Depression and addiction are commonly found together. While recovery is complex and takes time and effort, you can heal from depression and addiction. At NorthStar Transitions, we will empower you to navigate through a real-life recovery. Here, you can learn how to manage your mental health and address physical or emotional dependence on drugs, alcohol, or behaviors. We aim to address each person's unique needs by supporting our clients as whole people. If you are concerned about your mental health or substance use, we can help. Call us today at (303) 558-6400 to learn more. 

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