Depression and Anxiety

Addiction and Depression: Co-Occurring Nightmares

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More than 25% of all adults in the United States who suffer from a mental illness also struggle with a co-occurring substance use disorder. One of the most common mental illnesses in America is Major Depressive Disorder, affecting more than 16 million men and women over the age of 18 every year.

Unfortunately, many who suffer from depression turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their condition. Thus there is a distinct correlation between drug and alcohol addiction and depression.

Co-Occurring Nightmares: The Link Between Addiction and Depression

Shared Risk Factors Between Addiction And Depression


Science cannot definitively establish a checklist of life events that guarantee someone develops a depressive disorder or an addiction. Studies and research can, however, discover risk factors that may lead someone down the path to addiction and depression.


Growing up with one or both parents engaging in heavy alcohol or drug use puts someone at risk for developing similar habits. Developmental psychologists emphasize the importance of learning by example in children. “Do as I say, not as I do” may not cover all the bases in child-rearing when referring to drug and alcohol use.

Studies demonstrate these circumstances significantly increase the chance for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders as well.


Frequent exposure to stressful or traumatic experiences dramatically increases the chances of both depression and addiction. If the trauma causes post-traumatic stress disorder, then the risk for further mental health issues continues to grow.

People developing in traumatic environments, surrounded by drugs and alcohol are at the greatest risk for co-morbidity (simultaneous diagnosis) of these conditions.

Demographics And Genetics

Trends between demographics begin emerging as we learn more. Women who suffer from both conditions often develop depression first, while men are more likely to develop an addiction first.

Because of the extremely complex world we all live in, we cannot pin down exactly why these differences occur, but they are significant enough to have shown up under examination.

Research has begun to uncover genes that predispose people to both mood disorders and sensitivity to addiction.

The nature of these disorders varies greatly between individuals, which makes predicting them nearly impossible. One person may try a drug once and never go back, while another gets hooked for years.

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Addiction and Depression: Building On Each Other

Addiction and depression both fall under the classification of mental illness because they both influence brain function in fundamental ways. A person living with one condition may develop the other as an unintended consequence (depression) or coping mechanism (addiction).

Studies estimate that 25% of people with mental illnesses also struggle with a substance abuse disorder.

This relationship holds true going in the opposite direction as well. Around 33% of people struggling with substance abuse disorders report suffering from depression.

Research on alcoholism and depression found that once someone tested positive for either condition, their risk of gaining the other doubled. The common risk factors and propensity to encourage each other’s development explains the frequency with which addiction and depression co-occur.

Stigma Around Addiction And Depression

As science reveals more about the nature of mental health, centuries of misinformation and bias are being recognized as harmful. While mental illness perception is progressing, those suffering from these conditions still face stigma.


Depression and other mood disorders have found more acceptance in the public eye, but addiction is still heavily stigmatized. The movement pushing back against stigma wants addiction to be viewed as a disease in the same way as other mental health issues.

Related:  99 Thought-Provoking Journal Prompts for Depression and Anxiety (free .pdf)

Addiction’s classification as a behavioral disorder demonstrates the line of thinking leading to the extreme stigma this condition experiences.

Because addiction starts with a choice (the choice to do drugs or drink), many people frequently write off the resulting dependence as somehow deserved. There is an expectation that, if you engage in these behaviors, you fully understand the consequences regardless of age, context, or amount of exposure.

While the decision to do drugs ultimately is up to the person, analyzing that moment alone strips the person and situation of their context within society.

Studies within the past few decades continue to discover the societal factors that increase people’s risk to develop an addiction or mood disorder.


A 2018 survey offered to over 1,000 participants revealed that 30% agreed to the statement depression is caused by a weak personality.

While this is a minority within the representative population, it’s a significant number. This stigma often encourages people suffering from depression to keep it to themselves or continue on with no treatment.

Stigma can come from outside sources but can also be internalized for future self-stigmatization. In the stigmatized mindset, needing help necessarily means the person in need is weak or vulnerable. If they need help, they must not be able to manage it themselves “normally” or “like everyone else”.

This type of thought process can create a misunderstanding that depression isn’t a diagnosable disease but a normal emotion everyone experiences and progresses through.

In attempts to save their independence, a person suffering from depression may completely forgo professional help, possibly leading to a disastrous outcome. 

Be On The Look Out

Each of these conditions on their own can lead to severe consequences without treatment. When considering the frequency with which they appear as a dual diagnosis, recognizing their signs could be the difference between life or death for a loved one.

Signs Of Depression:

  • Persistent sad or anxious feelings
  • Frequent hopelessness
  • Frequently feel guilty or worthless
  • Noticeable decline in energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping and waking up on time
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts), suicidal intention, and attempts at suicide.

Signs Of Addiction:

  • Abandoning usual habits
  • Frequently finding excuses to be alone
  • Leaving friends
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, enjoyable activities
  • Bad moods: sad, tired, angry
  • Sleeping at strange times
  • Missing important appointments
  • Problems at work or school
  • Problems with friends or family
  • Speaking quickly and nonsensically 

Get Help Today

When suffering from either or both of these conditions, reaching out for help can seem like the most difficult step to take. Acknowledging the need for outside help and pushing for that change requires courage and introspection.

If you or a loved one are dealing with these issues, get help today and begin the healing process.

Support from a licensed therapist can prove to be remarkably effective. You can go see one in person, or you can look into online counseling. BetterHelp is one of the platforms we recommend. For a low monthly fee, you can work with your very own therapist via chat, video, or phone.

Depression Hurts.
Online Therapy Helps.

Take the free depression quiz. Then, get matched with a licensed therapist via video, phone, or text. Plans start at $60/week. Take 10% off with our link.


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About The Author
Michael Muldoon
Michael Muldoon is a content creator and outreach specialist for Recovery Worldwide LLC, an addiction and recovery, web-based company. He writes for all four of the company’s sites, providing information for those in need on their journey towards recovery. He finds participating in that journey very rewarding, and in his free time, he enjoys bouldering with friends to keep fit and have fun.
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Reviewed for accuracy by Randy Withers, MA, NCC, LCMHC, LCAS. Licensed Therapist and Managing Editor of Blunt Therapy

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