Addiction and depression often occur together. They’re closely linked not only because of their tendency to co-occur (that the presence of these conditions can lead to–or worsen–the other condition) but because they share many common risk factors, such as genetics, stress, and trauma. Additionally, both addiction and depression affect the brain in similar ways and cause overlapping changes in neurotransmitters and neural pathways.

How Addiction Can Lead to Depression (and vice versa)

One way that addiction can lead to depression is through the development of tolerance and withdrawal. When an individual becomes addicted to a substance, their brain adapts to the presence of the substance and becomes dependent on it. As the individual continues to use the substance, they may develop a tolerance to it, requiring more and more of the substance to achieve the same effects. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, when the individual stops using the substance.

Another way that addiction can lead to depression is through the impact of addiction on an individual’s life. Substance abuse can lead to a wide range of negative consequences, such as job loss, financial problems, and relationship issues. These consequences can significantly impact an individual’s physical and emotional well-being in addition to being highly stressful, all of which can contribute to depression. 

Depression can also lead to addiction. Many individuals with substance abuse issues are people suffering from mental illnesses. It’s common for both diagnosed and undiagnosed to turn to substance use to cope with their symptoms. They may use drugs or alcohol to numb negative feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Unfortunately, this can lead to addiction as they continue to use these substances to manage their depression.

Both conditions can result in changes in neurotransmitters and neural pathways; however, addiction can cause this change, whereas depression is likely a result of these abnormalities. Regardless of which came first or caused the other, these affect the reward and motivation pathways of the brain, making an individual more susceptible to addiction. People who are depressed are often in a state of anhedonia, a condition characterized by the inability to feel pleasure and reward. This makes an individual more likely to engage in substance use to experience pleasure and reward.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of both addiction and depression. Genetics plays a role in both disorders, with some having a higher risk of developing addiction or depression due to genetic predispositions. Drug use can actually affect the genes of an addicted person’s offspring, a phenomenon known as epigenetics, which can also lead to this predisposition. 

Events that cause high stress, such as trauma, and other life events, can increase the risk of addiction and mental illnesses like depression. For example, experiencing a traumatic event, such as a car accident or sexual assault, can increase the risk of addiction and depression.

Tips for Dealing with Depression & Addiction


Regular physical activity is an effective coping mechanism for depression. Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that can improve mood and reduce feelings of sadness and anxiety. It also helps to improve sleep, which can be disrupted in depression, and can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.


The practice of paying attention to the present moment can help to reduce symptoms of depression. By focusing on the present and not dwelling on negative thoughts or feelings, individuals can become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and learn to accept them without judgment. This can help to reduce feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Social Support

Having a solid support system can be an important coping mechanism for depression. Talking to friends and family about your feelings can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and provide you with a sense of validation and understanding. Additionally, joining a support group can provide a sense of community and connection with others experiencing similar struggles.

Both addiction and depression can be successfully managed so that people can live healthy, productive lives. While regular exercise, mindfulness, gratitude practices, and a dependable support network are things everyone could benefit from, there is no substitute for proper treatment or medication for severe mental disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or depression, seek professional help today.