-- Question: What is the relationship between depression and substance abuse?
Answer: There is a very close relationship between depression and substance abuse in adults. The two conditions are highly comorbid, which is to say that they occur together in an extremely high percentage of individuals. There are a number of different ways that this occurs. Substance abuse can cause depression and depression can cause substance abuse.
How does substance abuse cause depression? Well, there are a number of drugs that people use and abuse that can directly affect the brain and cause depression. For example, marijuana slows down brain functioning and diminishes cognitive abilities and can cause depression in a significant number of individuals. Alcohol can do the same thing. Cocaine tends to elevate people's moods, but when they come off it, they often experience a crash into depression. And there is a whole long list of other frequent drugs of abuse that also can lead to depression either during the time when the individual is intoxicated with the drug or during the withdrawal phase.
Now, how does depression lead to substance abuse on the other hand? Well, many individuals with depression are attempting to self-medicate themselves. They have difficulty either accepting that they're depressed or recognizing that what they're experiencing is depression and can be treated with medications or psychotherapy. So many people turn to substances, whether it's alcohol or other drugs of abuse to actually change how they feel. In some cases, they are able to change how they feel in the short run, but in the long run, they create much worse problems for themselves, as the drug of abuse often worsens the depression over the course of days, weeks or months.