Is Depression the Root of Opiate Abuse?

Is Depression the Root of Opiate Abuse?

Depression often underlies substance abuse and addictive disorders

Many cases of opiate abuse have underlying mental health factors that influence the course this use takes. Users repeatedly risk their health for a high that masks deep-rooted issues and their symptoms, and addiction can develop from these repeated attempts to self-medicate. Opiate use does not provide any real relief and ultimately worsens preexisting depression symptoms or causes new ones to arise, and treatment is the only option that provides real answers for both mental and physical health.

One underlying cause of substance abuse is depression, a common but serious mental health disorder. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance[1] (DBSA) shares, “Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year.” Not everyone seeks help with their depression, and many may not even recognize that depression is the root cause of what they are experiencing, feeling or thinking. Depression often goes untreated, and the desire to find something, anything that combats depressive symptoms becomes a goal.

Depression can involve feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and sadness. It can also involve physical symptoms such as sleep disorders, digestive disorders and chronic pain. Individuals may turn to opiates to block any of the emotional symptoms or physical discomfort, and doctors may even prescribe these medications in response to complaints of pain. Substance abuse is often a response to depression, and substance abuse can in turn cause depression or worsen depression symptoms. Because of this the DBSA explains, “27% of individuals with substance abuse disorders (both alcohol and other substances) experience depression.” People want to break free from sadness, hopelessness and pain, and when they do not know what causes these feelings or where they can turn for healthy options and support, they may turn to opiates, alcohol and other drugs.

Self-Medicating Depressive Symptoms with Opiates

Self-medication begins with the best intentions. Individuals want to escape emotional or physical pain, and they find doctors prescribing opiate medications or they take drugs offered by family or peers. These drugs can reduce the body’s sensation of pain and induce feelings of pleasure, relaxation and contentment. Depressed people may begin using opiates to self-medicate their symptoms, but doing so begins the path to tolerance, physical dependency, addiction and overdose. As addiction develops, substance abuse comes to worsen or magnify depression symptoms rather than mitigate them. This begins a cycle of self-medicating depression symptoms with the very substances that are causing the depression symptoms.

Treating Depression and Substance Abuse

When opiate use and depression overlap, the best way to treat them is to address both issues at once. People with co-occurring issues are often unaware of which came first, depression or substance abuse, and it is okay to lack an answer to this question. Treatment will focus on practical solutions for feeling better and managing both addiction and depression. Call our helpline to learn more about options for recovery that understand the interconnection between depression and substance use. We can connect you to integrated, holistic treatment that offers a path to emotional, physical and mental health. We are here 24 hours a day, and all phone services are free and confidential. Break the cycle of depression and addiction; take action today.

[1] “Depression Statistics.” Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Web. 24 May 2016.