Depression and Substance Abuse

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Depression is a very serious mood disorder that can affect and influence your mood, how you might feel and engage in certain activities that you may have once enjoyed before having some negative feelings and emotions that are significant factors when we think about depression. Depression and the co-morbidity of substance abuse is a rising epidemic that is becoming a more prevalent diagnosis in our society through the means of self-medication or abusing substances to cope with the anxiety or depression an individual may be experiencing.

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This is a rising problem for the ever growing college population who have reported in a study conducted by (Lamis, D. A., Ballard, E. D., May, A. M., & Dvorak, R. D. 2016). that they have experienced at some point in their college career a period of what they would label as depression.According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “” In order for an individual to be diagnosed with depression, symptoms or episodes of depression must last at least two weeks or more in order to be classified as a form of clinical or chronic depression. My hypothesis is that substance abuse is used as a self-medication or a coping mechanism for depression.

In the (Lamis et. al, 2016) article , the researchers collected a sample of local community college students. “”Out of the 962 participants that were interviewed for this experiment, 777 of them (81%) reported that they have or had experienced what they would label as feelings of depression. Westefeld, J. S., & Furr, S. R. (1987).

Depression and Alcohol Abuse

According to the research collected from (Lamis, D. et al, 2016), the researchers discussed in depth about some of the more common depressive symptoms that are often found in college students. The researchers goal was to assess some of the methods that this particular population tended to favor. For example, a common behaviour such as; self-indulging in self- medication can lead to an abuse of a substance such as: alcoholism, or binge drinking which are classified as forms of substance abuse. Evidence from the (Pompili et al.’s, 2011) article indicates that alcohol abuse has a transactional relationship with depression, in a way such that depressive symptoms lead to increased alcohol use, and excessive alcohol use can lead to increased chances of depression. (Pompili et al.’s, 2011). This article supports my hypothesis that depression can ultimately lead to the comorbidity of substance abuse and that substance abuse is used as a coping mechanism for depression. Depression and substance abuse have similar underlying neurological functions taking place in the brain in areas such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and the hypothalamus.

In an empirical article, conducted by ( Conway, KP, Compton W, Stinson FS, Grant BF, 2006) the objective of this study was to present “”nationally representative data on the lifetime probability and comorbidity of substance abuse disorders. The methods that were used included a representative sample of N-43,093 American civilians who were at least 18 years and older. The diagnosis of these disorders were based upon personal interviews using the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule or (AUDADIS) in which the results showed a significant association between mood disorders and drug use disorders. According to (Conway, et. al, 2006), the Association for dependence were greater than abuse. Greater for mood than anxiety disorders and in some cases stronger among women than men (p<.05). The conclusion for this study showed that comorbid psychiatric disorders may increase the risk of greater involvement in substance abuse and that evidence suggests that substance abuse intervention should address other psychiatric disorders. (Conway, et. al, 2006),

Through conducting research there was another empirical article , a study conducted by (Turner, S., Mota, N., Bolton, J., & Sareen, J., 2018) in which a sample of N- 2,034 undergraduate Psychology students at a Southeastern university were assessed.The demographics of the study were diverse in ethnicity and socioeconomic levels. The methods that were used from ( Turner, et. al, 2018) started with the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index or RAPI which was used as a measure to asses,,”” alcohol-related consequences that are common among the college population.( Turner, et. al, 2018) The findings from the RAPI reported on items such as: missing class, binge drinking, and participating in other substance abuse related behaviors that can lead to higher levels of depression from having more exposure to negative feelings or thoughts associated with depression.The results of this study concluded that the likelihood for an individual to become depressed while abusing substances is significantly much higher than those individuals who do not have an issue or suffer with substance abuse.

Using substances to reduce our distress has been hypothesized as one of the explanations for the comorbidity between depression and substance abuse. An empirical study conducted by ( Bolton, et. al, 2009) focused on self-medication specifically with alcohol and drugs to treat mood disorders such as; depression. Data from this study came from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions ( NESARC). A large sample size of N-43,093 adults ages 18 and older was collected to determine prevalence rates of self-medication for certain mood disorder such as: bipolar 1 disorder, and major depressive disorder. According to (Bolton, et. al, 2009), the results of the study indicated that “” Almost ? of people with mood disorders (24.1%) have used alcohol or drugs to relieve depressive symptoms. ( Bolton, et. al, 2009), The highest occurrence of self-medication was shown with bipolar 1 disorder with ( 41%) and the researchers found that “”men were two times as likely than women to engage in substance abuse ( Bolton, et. al, 2009). The researchers controlled the study for the effects of substance use disorders. However, one limitation to this study was that is was a cross-sectional design and further research should be done to help support the conclusions. The researchers concluded that “” The use of alcohol and drugs to relieve affective symptoms is common among individuals with mood disorders ( Bolton, et. al, 2009) a strong statement for my hypothesis.

An example of how depression and substance abuse can affect the neuroplasticity in our brain starts at the root of our cognitive functioning. For example, “”Alcohol and other substances often inhibit the cognitive abilities of an individual. (Turner, S et, al, 2018). Alcohol and other substances can also have an adverse and dramatic effect on those individuals who may be experiencing “” the comorbidity of mood or anxiety disorders along with depression. (Turner, S et, al, 2018). When we are depressed and abusing substances, our ability to make clear conscious and rational decisions become clouded and more difficult to make as our cognitive abilities become inhibited due to a foreign substance such as alcohol or cannabis being consumed by the body. (Turner, S et, al, 2018) The results from this study suggest that depressive symptoms are often associated with higher levels of depression and substance abuse.

However, throughout conducting research another prospective study examined the neurobiological underpinning of comorbid substance abuse and mood disorders. There is more than just an association between depression and substance abuse disorders, but an underlying neurological association that depression and substance abuse may possibly share biological mechanisms and functions. (G??mez-Coronado, N., Sethi, R., Bortolami, C. C., Arancini, L., Berk, M., & Dodd, S. ,2018). There are 3 major highlights from this particular article that support the hypothesis that depression and substance abuse share similar biological mechanisms and that substance abuse is used as a coping mechanism for depression. The first highlight that the researchers stated was how.. Neuroimaging supports dopaminergic dysfunction in depression and with tobacco use.( G??mez-Coronado, N., Sethi, R., Bortolami, C. C., Arancini, L., Berk, M., & Dodd, S., 2018). Evidence from this article indicated that there is a “” Positive association between alcohol use and hippocampal glutamate concentrations. (Gomez, et al., 2018). This indicates a form of neuroplasticity. For example, “”Low quantities of alcohol affect the ability of the hippocampus to process information, which then can impair the memory of an individual and the process of forming memory.(Gomez, et al, 2018) Lastly, “”Inflammation and stress are biomarkers in identifying comorbid depression. This is also often found in tobacco use.( Gomez, et al, 2018). This evidence indicates that environmental factors that can influence substance abuse and depression can have an overlap ( Kendler et al., 2003) where stressors play an important role in the increase of the risk of abusing a substance and experiencing an episode of depression.

A study conducted by (Lutz, D. J., Gipson, D. R., & Robinson, D. N. , 2018) provided informative statistics about alcohol and alcohol abuse as well as how depression can play a role in this abuse.””Out of the 138.3 million current reported alcohol consumers, , 48.2% have reported being binge drinkers and another 12.5% reported consuming alcohol excessively and frequently. (Lutz, D. J., Gipson, D. R., & Robinson, D. N. , 2018).The authors focused on the consumption of alcohol and how it can be a strong variable in depression. Substance abuse is frequently comorbid or co-existing often with either mood, anxiety, and or personality disorders. (Hasin & Kilcoyne, 2012).According to (Lutz, D. J., Gipson, D. R., & Robinson, D. N. , 2018), “” Nearly …• individuals who have been diagnosed with a past-year alcohol use disorder, also have a comorbid anxiety or mood disorder. Individuals who are diagnosed with a primary mood or anxiety disorder are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse disorder. ( Fink et al., 2016).The Beck Depression Inventory was used as a measure to assess the participants level of depression and self-reporting questionnaires to report the usage of alcohol and other substances such as marijuana, and cigarettes..( Cohn, A. M. 2018). The results of the study indicated that “”Alcohol has a higher cumulative comorbidity rate of 21% between alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder. (Briere, Rohde, Seeley, Klein & Lewinsohn, 2014). Most of the existing research about substance abuse and depression focus on alcohol, however through conducting research I came across another substance that is easily accessible and abused, marijuana.

Depression and Marijuana Use

As stated in the hypothesis of the paper, depression is a risk factor in evaluating substance abuse behaviours including the consumption of substances such as:alcohol and marijuana. In this study, data was collected from six annual surveys of the National Survey of Drug Use and Health to include adults who were at least 18 years of age and older that reported consuming marijuana at least once in the past 30 days with a sample size of N- 28, 557. (Dierker, L., Selya, A., Lanza, S., Li, R., & Rose, J. 2018). The results from this study after statistical control for socio demographic characteristics was that depression was positively and significantly associated with marijuana use disorders symptoms. “” The conclusion from the study on depression and marijuana use disorder symptoms among current users was that, “” Depression is a consistent risk factor for marijuana use over and above exposure. “” ( Dierker et. al, 2018).

The rates of cannabis are increasing in the United States. According to an article written by (Bobadilla, L., Vaske, J., & Asberg, K. , 2013) the authors test whether the DRD4 gene polymorphism is linked with comorbid marijuana abuse and depression. The study examined to see if there were any associations between cannabis consumption frequency and depression in non-clinical adolescents. The researchers collected a sample of N-1882, from the ages of 14 to 18 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results of the study indicated that “”Multinomial regression analyses indicated that the odds of being comorbid for depression and marijuana use are 2.5with the =7R/.7R genotype than teenagers who carry the -7R/-7R gene. The conclusion of this study was that the findings provide clues for psychopathology about depression and marijuana abuse.

Depression and Alternative Treatment

According to ( Lutz, D. J., Gipson, D. R., & Robinson, D. N. ,2018) the research was emphasized on an alternative treatment for both depression and substance abuse aside from self-medication as a coping mechanism.This study applied the practice of yoga and mindfulness techniques that can be helpful with relieving depressive symptoms. The article also referenced some of the techniques that are commonly used in yoga such as : relaxation, mindfulness, and mediation which are all components of yoga. For example, “” Certain yoga techniques may improve physical and mental health through down-regulation of the sympathetic nervous system or center.( Ross & Thomas, 2010).

Evidence in this article also gave another option to a treatment of depression as well as the comorbidity of substance abuse.Physical exercise and breathing can regulate our sympathetic nervous system. According to (Linke & Ussher, 2015) “” The dopaminergic refinement mechanisms that are activated by substances like alcohol and other drugs are also activated during physical exercise indicating that exercise may produce similar pleasurable effects and reduce the desire for substances on the neurobiological level. To bring things to a full circle, the misuse and abuse of substances tend to be a favorable option for a coping mechanism used to alleviate the symptoms an individual may experience with depression or anxiety disorders.


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Depression and Substance Abuse. (2020, Mar 28). Retrieved from