Dual Diagnosis: Addiction And Depression

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

Addiction and depression are often linked. For the most successful recovery, both problems need to be treated. This is where dual diagnosis treatment centers can help.

Depression And Addiction | Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Depression is a common, yet serious mood disorder. If a person is struggling with depression, it’s most likely affecting how they feel, think, and act.

The symptoms of depression can change every aspect of a person’s life, from how much they sleep or eat to how well they work or socialize.

Unfortunately, mental health problems like depression can often lead to substance use disorders, such as drug addiction. People who have depression may misuse substances like drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate.

While this may make the person feel better for a while, it isn’t a permanent solution. In fact, the symptoms of depression and the side effects of a substance use disorder can both be made worse by the other.

That means over time, substance abuse can worsen depression while depression can lead to even higher risks for people who are abusing drugs.

Unfortunately, even when people do try to seek help for substance abuse or mental illness, they often are only treated for one condition or the other.

For a person who is facing co-occurring disorders (a dual diagnosis), dual diagnosis treatment is the most effective treatment program. Dual diagnosis care is a way that patients can receive treatment for both issues from a qualified treatment specialist.

How Depression Can Be Linked To Addiction

A lot of people who struggle with substance use disorders are also diagnosed with mental disorders. A national survey has reported that half of the people who struggle with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime will also have a substance use disorder.

Either disorder can develop before the other, or they can develop together.

For example, the use of some illegal drugs can cause some people to experience one or more symptoms of a mental health problem like depression. Alternatively, depression can lead to alcoholism or drug use. This can in turn lead to a substance use disorder.

Studies have also found that people with mental health, personality, and substance use disorders may be at an increased risk for opioid abuse.

In fact, 43 percent of people in an addiction treatment program for abusing painkillers have a diagnosis or symptoms of mental health disorders. For the most part, these symptoms point toward depression or anxiety.

Unfortunately, one condition can worsen the symptoms of another. This is especially true for depression and addiction.

Substance Abuse Can Worsen Symptoms Of Depression

Both addiction and depression come with unpleasant side effects. Facing both issues at the same time can only make those symptoms worse.

Symptoms of addiction can include behavioral changes, physical changes, or social changes.

These are a few common symptoms of addiction:

  • drop in attendance or performance at work, school, or social events
  • changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • lack of motivation
  • anxiety or paranoia
  • bloodshot eyes
  • changes in weight
  • slurred speech or impaired coordination
  • changes in friends
  • unexplained financial problems

On the other hand, symptoms of depression can include any of the following:

  • negative emotions
  • feelings of sadness
  • feeling very tired
  • feelings of hopelessness, irritability, anxiousness, or guilt
  • cramps, aches, or pains
  • headaches
  • digestive problems
  • changes in appetite, like overeating or not wanting to eat at all
  • changes in sleep patterns, such as not being able to sleep or sleeping too much
  • loss of interest in school, work, social events, or hobbies
  • thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide

Some of the signs of depression and addiction can be similar. These symptoms in particular may worsen if a person is facing both a drug or alcohol use disorder and depression.

Types Of Depression

Not all types of depression are the same.

There are many different types of depression, including but not limited to the following:

  • major depression
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • atypical depression
  • dysthymia

Major Depression (Clinical Depression)

In the United States, major depression is one of the most common mental disorders. People who are diagnosed with major depression may face major side effects that interfere with their daily life.

Major depressive disorder is defined as a depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure in daily activities for at least two weeks.

Additionally, other common symptoms of depression may appear, such as:

  • sleeping too much or not enough
  • changes in appetite
  • low energy
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • difficulty concentrating

If you or a loved one has experienced these symptoms for two weeks or more, seek help from a mental health professional or treatment specialist as soon as possible.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that may not be present year-round. Instead, it tends to start in the late fall or early winter and ease up during the spring and summer seasons. Of course, a person can experience SAD during any time of the year.

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In order to be diagnosed with SAD, a person must display symptoms for major depression during specific seasons for at least two years.

Symptoms of the winter pattern of SAD may include the following:

  • having low energy
  • hypersomnia
  • overeating
  • weight gain
  • craving for carbs
  • social withdrawal or isolation

Typically, this type of depression is more common than major depressive disorder. If you’ve noticed symptoms of depression around the same time each year, you may actually be noticing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Atypical Depression

According to a recent study, atypical depression starts early in life, lasts longer, and is more likely to occur in people with bipolar disorder or an anxiety disorder. It also carries a high risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Symptoms of depression with atypical features can include:

  • increased appetite
  • increased sleep
  • heaviness in arms or legs
  • problems with social and work life
  • mood reactivity (mood brightens with positive events and darkens with negative events)

Generally, a person who experiences atypical depression may not always have the same feelings of sadness as a person with major depressive disorder. If they do, they’re more likely present in the evening as opposed to in the morning.

Still, the symptoms of atypical depression aren’t always the same. This is especially true if the person is also facing other mental health issues or a substance use disorder.


Persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymic disorder, is a type of depression that’s not quite as severe as other cases, although it may last longer than major depressive disorder.

In order to be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, a person must display a combination of depressive symptoms for at least two years. Not quite as common, it’s estimated that 1.3 percent of U.S. adults experience dysthymic disorder at some point in their lives.

If you or a loved one has experienced mild depressive symptoms for two or more years, it could be a persistent depressive disorder.

Treatment Options For Depression And Addiction

When you’re facing a dual diagnosis like depression and addiction, treatment will be customized to meet your needs. For this reason, it’s important to get in touch with a qualified treatment specialist and figure out the best treatment plan together.

Dual Diagnosis Programs

Having an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness is one of the leading causes of relapse. It’s common for people to seek help for either depression or addiction, but it’s important to treat both in order to have a successful recovery.

If you’re struggling with a dual diagnosis like depression and addiction, the best thing that you can do is contact a dual diagnosis treatment facility. These treatment providers specialize in helping people with both mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

In a dual diagnosis program, patients receive the tools and support necessary for facing both mental illness and addiction. In addition to customized substance abuse treatment, dual diagnosis programs also include a variety of treatment approaches, therapies, and peer support.

Customized Treatment Plans

Finding treatment at a rehab center that offers individualized treatment plans may be the most effective way to treat a dual diagnosis like addiction and depression.

With a customized treatment plan, treatment specialists work directly with patients to create an individualized plan for recovery success.

Treatment Approaches And Therapies

Treating a mental health problem and addiction can look different depending on what works best for you. Dual diagnosis care may take the form of inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment.

Inpatient treatment is more immersive and intensive compared to outpatient treatment. With this option, the patient will go into an inpatient drug rehab facility and stay for an extended period of time. Treatment may involve detox, mental health treatment, and many other therapies and treatment methods.

Inpatient treatment (or residential treatment) isn’t always an option, whether it’s due to work, family obligations, or other responsibilities.

Alternatively, outpatient treatment programs have patients visit a treatment center several times a week to get the necessary support and resources.

In addition, there are anti-anxiety prescription medications and antidepressants that your treatment specialist may recommend early in recovery. Some non-addictive medications may also be able to help you manage the symptoms of a mental illness.

Whether or not you and your treatment specialist decide to use medication, there are several types of therapy that you may try during your treatment.

Your treatment program may include one or more of the following individual or group therapies:

  • psychotherapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • trauma-informed therapy
  • wilderness or outdoor therapy
  • yoga and mindfulness
  • support groups

Everyone’s mental health is different and some addictions can be dangerous to break all at once. Because of this, it’s important to contact a dual diagnosis treatment specialist that can work with you to decide on the best course of action.

Find A Treatment Program Today

If you, one of your family members, or other loved ones are having problems with depression and addiction, don’t put off getting help. Contact an AddictionResource.net treatment specialist today to learn more about finding a dual diagnosis treatment facility that works for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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

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