Mood Disorders: Can They Be Affected by Substance Abuse?

Whether the condition is depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, nearly everyone knows a person who struggles with a mood disorder.

According to Mental Health America, as many as 20 percent of Americans report at least one symptom of a mood disorder in any given month. The prevalence of mental health issues around the world has contributed to the rise of prescription drugs that treat the problem, from Xanax for anxiety to Wellbutrin for depression.  

With so many people in the country living with mood disorders, it should be no surprise that many of these individuals also abuse prescription or illicit drugs. But could there be a connection between these two conditions? According to researchers, there is a connection; mood disorders can

What Is a Mood Disorder?

A mood disorder is, as the name suggests, a mental health issue surrounding one’s mood. These psychological conditions elevate a person’s mood (such as bipolar disorder) or lower it (such as depression), independent of the individual’s circumstances or surroundings. Mayo Clinic reports that the most common mood disorders are:

Mood disorders can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of their income, lifestyle, or upbringing. However, a person may choose to treat their mood disorder differently because of their lifestyle or circumstances. Some people may use behavioral therapy to learn to cope with their mood changes. Others may seek out pharmaceutical drugs that help regulate their mood. Unfortunately, some people may self-medicate with illicit drugs, alcohol, or prescription drug abuse.

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Cyclothymic disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

Everyone who uses drugs does so to achieve a certain effect. An injured person takes painkillers to find some relief. Someone with insomnia takes sleep aids to get a good night’s rest. And individuals who suffer from mood disorders often use drugs to level out unstable emotions.

This goal can lead some people to overuse certain substances. Studies from the National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that people with mood disorders tend to have a high prevalence of drug abuse. The existence of drug use and mental health issues in one person is known as comorbidity.

However, not everyone with a mood disorder uses drugs to find stability. Some people do not use drugs at all, and some experience mood disorders only after experimenting with substance abuse. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that some people may experience mood disorders as a direct result of drug abuse. This scenario is known as a substance-induced mood disorder.

Commonly Abused Drugs

Why does someone with a mood disorder self-medicate with substance abuse? The reasons are varied, but most psychologists agree that drug abuse often comes from a need to treat their volatile mental state.

A report in Psychology Today states that people who are unable to soothe themselves in healthy ways (which is the case for many people with untreated mood disorders) may turn to prescription or illicit drugs in an effort to find relief.

The substances people use will vary, too. This is largely due to personal circumstances; for example, a person who visits a psychiatrist for their mood disorder will be more likely to abuse prescription medication than someone who does not have access to those drugs. Some of the most commonly abused substances are:

  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines (e.g., Adderall or Dexedrine)
  • Opioids (e.g., codeine, morphine, or oxycodone)

Treating Mood Disorders and Addiction Comorbidity

If an individual suffers from both addiction and a mood disorder, it is very important that they receive treatment for both conditions simultaneously. This may involve initially detoxing from the addictive substance and then therapy (either in a group or one on one) to help them discover their personal triggers and learn valuable coping skills to deal with their mood disorder in a safe and healthy way.

However, talk therapy is not the only option for someone suffering from a severe mood disorder. A 2005 study in Science and Practice Perspectives discusses recent advancements in pharmacotherapy, such as new psychiatric drugs that are safe for people who struggle with substance abuse.

Drugs that do not elicit addictive effects, such as opioid receptor antagonists, can treat mood disorders without enabling substance abuse. With these treatment options, a person suffering from addiction and depression, bipolar disorder, or any other form of mood disorder can find relief and live a happier, more stable life.

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