Co-Occurring Mood Disorders And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2021

Substance abuse is common among people with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Overcoming substance abuse with a mood disorder may require specialty treatment, such as a dual diagnosis treatment program.

Dual Diagnosis Mood Disorders And Addiction

Mood disorders are mental illnesses that specifically affect a person’s mood, thoughts, and behavior. They can sometimes be chronic in nature and affect people of all ages.

According to the U.S National Institute on Drug Abuse, mood disorders are some of the most types of mental disorders to co-occur with drug and alcohol use disorders.

Common co-occurring mood disorders include:

  • major depressive disorder
  • bipolar disorder
  • postpartum depression and addiction
  • seasonal affective disorder and addiction

Drugs can be used as a way to distract, numb, or cope with life difficulties in the absence of other supportive strategies or professional help.

Causes of co-occurring disorders, and their symptoms, can vary depending on the type of disorder and personal factors.

Why Do Mood Disorders And Addiction Co-Occur?

The reason why substance abuse is so common among people with a mood disorder, and vice versa, isn’t simple.

Research traces this co-occurrence to several potential factors:

  • Shared risk factors: People with certain risk factors, including low self-esteem, stress, and trauma, are more likely to develop mood disorders and substance abuse issues.
  • Family history: Having a family history of mental illness or substance abuse is linked to a greater likelihood of developing one or the other (or both) yourself.
  • Genetics: Researchers have identified some genetic vulnerabilities that overlap when it comes to the likelihood of developing substance use or mood disorders.
  • Effects on the brain: Drugs and alcohol affect some areas of the brain that are linked to depression, bipolar disorder, and mood irregularities.
  • Environment: A person’s relationships, upbringing, and factors related to the environment in which they live can influence their use of substances like drugs and alcohol, as well as mood.

Research shows that having a mood disorder can increase your chance of developing drug or alcohol issues at some point in your life. And the same is true the other way around.

Addiction And Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression is one of the leading mental health conditions to affect adults and adolescents in the United States.

People with major depression may experience minor to significant changes in mood, emotional affect, and how they interact with others.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • prolonged sadness
  • low motivation
  • less interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • changes in sleep and appetite
  • spending more time alone
  • feeling fatigued much or all of the time
  • having thoughts of suicide or wanting to be dead
  • difficulty concentrating

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Living with major depressive disorder—or another form of depression, like postpartum depression or seasonal affective disorder—can affect a person’s outlook on life, their relationships, and their ability to work or go to school.

Read more about co-occurring major depressive disorder and addiction

Addiction And Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder that’s characterized by intense highs and lows in mood: most commonly, mania and depression.

Bipolar disorder can be diagnosed as:

  • Bipolar I: a type of bipolar disorder that can feature both manic (high) and depressive (low) episodes.
  • Bipolar II: a type of bipolar disorder where a person may experience depressive episodes, as well as hypomania, which is less intense than full-blown mania.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: a disorder where someone experiences sub-clinical symptoms of depressive and hypomanic episodes for at least two years.

People with this disorder can experience rapid and intense shifts in mood, energy level, and concentration. The use of drugs or alcohol may exacerbate these symptoms.

Dangers Of Abusing Drugs Or Alcohol With Bipolar Disorder

Untreated bipolar disorder is a major concern, particularly due to its association with self-harm, accidental injury, and suicide.

According to research, the rate of suicide among people with bipolar disorder is 10 to 30 times higher than the general population. People are also more likely to suffer injuries.

Dangers of abusing drugs or alcohol with bipolar disorder can include:

  • worsened symptoms of depression or mania
  • stopped use of bipolar medication
  • increased risk for suicide

Co-Occurring Mood Disorder And Addiction Rates

Information on the co-occurrence of mental health and substance use disorders is collected through national surveys and research to determine how common dual diagnosis is.

What research shows:

  • Twenty percent of people with a depressive disorder develop substance abuse issues during their lifetime.
  • Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability nationwide among people aged 15 to 44.
  • One in four adults with a mental illness also have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
  • People with a serious mental illness—an illness that causes severe impairment to one’s ability to function—are more likely to use illicit drugs than those with any mental illness.
  • An estimated 47 to 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lifetime.

What Are Common Drugs Of Abuse Among People With Mood Disorders?

Drugs and alcohol can often be used by people with mood disorders as a form of self-medication, to reduce overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, mania, or fatigue.

Substances of abuse may include:

  • alcohol
  • cocaine
  • heroin
  • methamphetamine
  • prescription drugs
  • marijuana

Alcohol dependence and addiction is especially common, followed by illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin, and the use of marijuana.

Can Drug Abuse Cause Mood Disorders?

Many commonly misused substances including alcohol can cause mood disorders. This is known as a substance-induced disorder or substance-induced symptoms.

For this reason, a clinician will generally wait some time after a person has stopped their drug or alcohol use before diagnosing someone with a mood disorder.

People with substance use disorders may experience symptoms of mood disorders—such as depression, agitation, anxiety, and insomnia—both while actively misusing drugs and during the withdrawal process.

Can You Recover From Depression And Addiction?

Recovery is possible. But it may take an integrated treatment approach to provide you with the level of support you need to address both the substance abuse and mental illness.

People with mood disorders can face some barriers in the treatment process if they’re only treated for one problem rather than both the mental illness and substance abuse concurrently.

Co-occurring mood disorders and substance abuse are associated with:

  • more severe symptoms of mood disorders
  • more severe alcohol or drug dependence
  • greater difficulty achieving recovery
  • need for dual diagnosis treatment

Getting treatment for one disorder but not the other can hinder a person’s success in treatment. This can lead to a cycle of relapse, and hurt a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life.

Dual diagnosis treatment, on the other hand, is a type of treatment that treats all disorders a person has at once. This can be more effective than treating one or the other alone.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Co-Occurring Addiction And Mood Disorders

Dual diagnosis treatment is offered by some addiction treatment centers and individual treatment providers. This may be offered at multiple levels of care.

The level of care and types of treatment services a person needs will depend on individual factors, including the severity of their illness. Generally, treatment begins with detox.

Dual diagnosis treatment programs may offer:

  • medically-supervised detox
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • dual diagnosis group therapy
  • family therapy
  • medication
  • holistic treatments

Getting help through a dual diagnosis treatment program can improve a person’s chance of achieving life-long recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

If you’re looking for mental health and addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, call our helpline today to find a treatment program that’s right for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on April 19, 2021


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