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The Long-Term Effects Of Depression And Substance Abuse


Feeling depressed and depression are two different things. While many people suffer with feelings of sadness, loneliness and depression this is an expected reaction to difficult life events and struggles. However, when these feelings become overwhelming or last for long periods of time like weeks, months or even years, it could be the sign of clinical depression. Clinical depression often exacerbates with substance use as many people try to self-medicate or use it as a coping mechanism to avoid the issue.

The physical impacts of substance abuse often worsen when a person suffers from common symptoms of depression like anxiety and low mood. It can include things like poor sleeping, headaches and even inflammation in the body. Other physical impacts of substance abuse can include mental health effects like irritability, anger and other worsened symptoms of depression.

For this reason, it is highly recommended that if you are suffering with symptoms of depression that you seek the help of your doctor. While these common symptoms like low mood, poor sleep and irritability may seem like nothing, they could all be the sign of something more serious. Other symptoms of depression include:

  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or other sleeping problems
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating/loss appetite loss
  • Aches, pains, headaches or cramps that don’t stop
  • Digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment
  • Persistently sad, anxious and low feelings
  • Dark thoughts and thoughts of death1

The Role of Substance Use or Abuse during Depression

Misusing substances like prescription drugs, illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications and other things like alcohol to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety will not help. As this type of self-medicating behaviors are not a long-term solution to depression relief. For people suffering with the common symptoms of depression, chronic depression, or substance abuse + depression symptoms, self-medicating may have a reverse effect. In fact, studies have shown that there are many factors that can make depression worse including self-medicating and substance abuse. In this sense, “substances” can include things like alcohol, heavy consumption of caffeine, cocaine and amphetamines, hallucinogens, nicotine, opioids, sedatives and others.2

Talking To A Counselor AboutSubstance Abuse + Depression

Over time, the two health problems of substance abuse and depression can worsen mental stability. It is so important to talk not only to your physician but also with a trained mental health counselor who specializes in substance abuse treatment. This approach develops an effective plan for reducing the long-term effects of mental health problem.

Substance abuse is common and so are depression symptoms. Together, the long-term effects of the coupled mental health problem can worsen your overall health and wellbeing. It can disrupt your daily functioning, and relationship with children & significant other. So, do not wait to talk to your physician and a mental health counselor, today! It is easier than you may think to stop the lingering feelings of stress and anxiety to reduce self-medicating behavior. Your doctor may make simple dietary recommendations like eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Other suggestions may include daily exercise, taking on new hobbies, making new friends and talk therapy. You can stop the nagging feelings to use alcohol or drugs and lift depression symptoms! So, talk to your doctor about addressing any long-term symptoms you may have.

For more information or to schedule appointment online please visit our Substance Use Page or call at 919-647-4600.


1. Signs of Clinical Depression. WebMd. 

2. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 42.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005.

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