Mood Disorders and Substance Abuse

Last Updated: November 27, 2023

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When mood disorders and addiction co-occur, they often exacerbate one another. Fortunately, co-occurring disorders treatment can address both concerns simultaneously.

Addiction, or substance use disorder, often occurs alongside mood disorders. Co-occurring conditions can be exceptionally challenging, as both disorders can trigger one another and worsen the symptoms of both conditions. 

Mood disorders are quite common in the United States, with 21.4% of adults experiencing one in their lifetime. Further, around 32% of people with mood disorders also struggle with substance abuse. When addiction and mood disorders occur together, however, both conditions must be treated at the same time for someone to effectively recover.

The Connection Between Mood Disorders and Substance Use Disorders

Mood disorders are caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment and life experiences. Mood disorders can be difficult to manage, so people often feel the urge to escape from their symptoms. They may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to reduce the emotional pain caused by mood disorders, but it often worsens things in the long run. A person may feel a sense of relief or temporary escape from distressing thoughts and feelings, but the underlying challenges remain. Untreated substance use and mood disorders often end up triggering each other and worsening symptoms of both conditions.

Related Topic: Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Treating Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mood Disorders

Getting treatment for mood or substance use concerns is important and can help improve quality of life significantly. If both conditions are present and only one is treated, however, it can worsen the symptoms of the untreated condition and sabotage treatment efforts.

Co-occurring treatment is the best way to manage mood disorders and addiction simultaneously. Rehab facilities like The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offer evidence-based treatment methods that help people recover from co-occurring conditions and learn healthier ways to cope. Treatment options can vary widely, but they typically include therapy and medication-assisted approaches.


Psychotherapy is a crucial component of treatment for mood disorders and addiction. Exploring thoughts, feelings and behaviors helps clients develop an understanding of what causes these conditions to occur. In psychotherapy, therapists work with clients to develop new strategies for coping with depression and other mood disorder symptoms. Exploring triggers, automatic thoughts and new perspectives can help reduce the intensity of symptoms, especially when new coping skills are established.

Therapy also looks at the issues that led to drug and alcohol abuse to begin with, which can be extremely valuable for recovery. It often helps people identify root causes of substance abuse, such as negative self-evaluation, traumatic events and a variety of other factors.


The use of medications alongside therapy is often helpful for co-occurring disorders. Medications to treat mood disorders and manage drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms can make recovery less painful. When the more severe symptoms of co-occurring disorders are managed with medication, it can make the cognitive and emotional work of therapy feel less overwhelming.

Common medications for co-occurring mental disorders include antidepressants and mood stabilizers. Medical professionals assess the symptoms and determine the best medication for the type of mood disorder a person is experiencing. Additional medications to treat the physiological aspects of addiction can include any number of medicines, such as medication for reducing nausea or buprenorphine for managing opioid withdrawal.

What Are Mood Disorders?

In the DSM-5, the mood disorder category includes a broad range of conditions. There are many types of mood disorders and a variety of symptoms that can emerge, depending on the type of disorder that is present. Anyone can have a mood disorder, but some people may be more prone to them as a result of their genetics, experiences and environmental factors. 

Types of Mood Disorders

The most common types of mood disorders include major depression, substance-induced mood disorder, bipolar disorder and dysthymia.

Major Depression

People with major depression may experience symptoms consistently for years, or they may go through shorter periods that last for several weeks or months. The intensity of symptoms can also vary, ranging from fatigue and sadness to suicidal ideation.

Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

Sometimes, substance use can cause mood disorders to develop. Among people with alcohol use disorders, an estimated 40% to 60% have depression that is brought on by alcohol.

Bipolar Disorder

Rather than the consistent state of depression that people with other mood disorders experience, those with bipolar experience periods of mania and of depression. Manic periods may include symptoms like high energy, grandiosity, lack of sleep, racing thoughts and impulsive decision-making; periods of depression may include sadness, low self-worth, suicidal ideation, fatigue and excessive sleep.


Also known as persistent depressive disorder, dysthymia is a long-lasting, low-grade depressive disorder with anxiety features. The disorder can be present for many years at a time and cause low mood, sadness and fatigue.

Symptoms of a Mood Disorder

Because mood disorders vary in length and intensity, symptoms also vary a great deal. Some people with mood disorders like dysthymia can function in daily life with minimal disruption in their ability to work, interact with others and manage a range of other activities. More severe mood disorders can be debilitating and impair a person’s ability to attend to the tasks of daily life. 

Individual responses to mood disorders are diverse, especially when it comes to bipolar disorders. It can be difficult for people with severe forms of bipolar disorder to work consistently or tend to obligations in life, and it is a common source of distress that can contribute to substance abuse. 

Many mood disorders have similar common traits, such as:

  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Changes in eating patterns (overeating or undereating)
  • Changes in energy levels (fatigue or manic)
  • Self-esteem shifts (grandiose thinking or low self-worth)
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Tearfulness
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • A pervasive sense of letting others down
  • Avoidance behaviors

Effects of Alcohol and Drug Use on Mood Disorders

Substances impact mood disorders significantly and often end up worsening symptoms during and after use. Withdrawal symptoms can also make mood disorder symptoms worse, particularly as a person’s tolerance level increases and they require more of a substance to get the same results as before. 

Each person’s response to drugs and alcohol differs, but most people with mood disorders have similar outcomes when using substances excessively:

  • Alcohol: When people have co-occurring alcohol addiction and mood disorders, symptoms worsen significantly. Even though alcohol may seem to mask mood disorder symptoms initially, it can increase impulsive behaviors that sometimes result in suicidal attempts or risky actions.
  • Marijuana: When people with mood disorders use marijuana, it increases the rate of depressive symptoms like loss of interest and joy in life and suicidal ideation. 
  • Stimulants: Stimulants offer a false sense of energy and can exacerbate or cause manic symptoms, even for people who do not have bipolar disorder. Anxiety symptoms are a common side effect of stimulant use, particularly for those already prone to anxiety.

Treating Co-Occurring Mood and Substance Use Disorders

Co-occurring substance and mood disorders can be complex to navigate. It is important to treat both conditions simultaneously in order to avoid relapses into substance use or worsen mood disorder symptoms. Treating one condition without the other can sabotage recovery and may result in suicidal behaviors or other impulsive reactions. 

People who enter treatment in a comprehensive, accredited facility like The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper receive evidence-based, co-occurring disorders treatment methods provided by a multidisciplinary team of experts. Our facility offers support in a caring environment and is ready to assist in your treatment journey today. Contact us to learn more about treatment for co-occurring disorders that can work well for your situation.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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