Acera Health

Can Substance Abuse and Depression Co-Occur?


Not only can substance abuse and depression co-occur; they frequently do. When a person is diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder and depression (or another mental illness), they are said to have a dual diagnosis. Experiencing just one of these conditions on its own can be challenging enough, but when an individual faces both together, their best chance to manage both conditions successfully is with simultaneous treatment. If you have been diagnosed with co-occurring conditions or suspect you may have them, it’s important to remember that treatment can lead to relief.

How Common Is Dual Diagnosis?

Roughly 20 million people in the U.S. have a substance abuse disorder. Of these, more than 37% also have a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. That means that dual diagnosis is a common occurrence. Among the more than 42 million people suffering from a mental illness, more than 18% also experienced a substance abuse problem.

Substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses like depression are separate conditions, but one may be caused by the other. For example, someone who experiences depression might turn to alcohol or illicit drugs to self-medicate. While drinking or abusing drugs may temporarily alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, these actions aren’t effective ways of managing those symptoms. By establishing a pattern of drinking or using drugs to dull mental health symptoms, the individual may actually be paving a path to addiction. 

The genesis of dual diagnosis occurs this way too: a person who abuses drugs and alcohol habitually can cause themselves a mental illness. That’s because habitual or acute substance abuse can change the chemistry of the brain. Sometimes these changes result in mental health symptoms that may or may not be permanent. 

Why Is Simultaneous Treatment Needed for Co-Occurring Disorders?

An untreated condition like addiction or mental illness can derail the treatment of the other condition. For instance, a person who is being treated for depression but not their alcohol use disorder is unlikely to achieve good treatment results because their alcohol problem will impede progress. Similarly, if a person enters rehab for their drug use problem but their depression is ignored, they’re also unlikely to experience the best results. 

Either condition can exacerbate the other, which is why the medical community recommends that treatment for dual diagnosis be simultaneous. When an individual is treated for both conditions at the same time, they can manage both conditions and prevent them from getting in the way of the treatment of the other.

Does Depression Always Occur in Dual Diagnosis?

Depression commonly occurs in dual diagnosis, especially in cases also involving an alcohol use disorder. However, depression is one of many mental health conditions that may be present in dual diagnosis. A person with a cocaine addiction may have a co-occurring disorder of generalized anxiety. A person who is addicted to opioid painkillers may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

What’s important is for individuals to get an accurate diagnosis of their disorders so that they can be treated effectively for them. Depression can be managed with medication, in many instances, as well as therapy and lifestyle changes. 

How Is Dual Diagnosis Managed?

Simultaneous treatment is the rule of thumb for managing co-occurring disorders today. Unfortunately, not all addiction treatment centers are equipped to treat dual diagnoses. A person who is suffering from a substance use disorder and depression, for instance, should find a rehab that offers dual diagnosis treatment. Because co-occurring disorders are common today, many addiction treatment rehabs now offer dual diagnosis treatment. 


The first step in dual diagnosis treatment is detox. Until the physical dependence on drugs or alcohol can be severed, individuals will find it difficult to impossible to focus on therapy for either their substance abuse problem or depression. 


Often, healthcare providers offer treatment to individuals progressing through detox. They offer treatment to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms that inevitably accompany the detox process. Often, this is also the time when clinicians might recommend medication to treat depression too. Today’s antidepressants are known to be highly effective and are associated with fewer side effects than depression medications from decades ago. Once the individual has completed detox, they can begin the next phase of dual diagnosis treatment.


During their rehab stay or outpatient treatment, clients will attend therapy sessions for their addiction as well as their depression. Substance abuse counseling often involves both one-on-one and group sessions. Depression therapy involves individual sessions with a mental healthcare professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. During therapy sessions, clients learn strategies for successfully managing both of their conditions. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Acera Health

Acera Health offers specialized dual diagnosis treatment. Because each individual is different, we offer customized treatment plans. While it can take time to achieve recovery from both conditions, we build treatment success incrementally. Small steps over time result in great changes. Our mental healthcare experts and addiction specialists understand how overwhelming clients may feel when contending with both conditions; that’s why we provide customized support, helping each person find the best management solutions for their respective conditions. 

Don’t Wait to Get Help

Both addiction and mental illnesses can be lifelong conditions. However, people can live normal and rewarding lives once they are able to effectively manage their conditions. The sooner an individual gets help, the easier it will be to prevent either condition from worsening. Dual diagnosis is serious, but too often, individuals put off getting help. 

At Acera Health, we devote our careers to helping people achieve recovery from dual diagnosis. We rely on medically sanctioned therapies and best practices for helping our clients overcome their challenges and achieve lasting recovery. Contact us to learn more about our treatment options.


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