There’s a saying in the recovery movement: Alcohol and drug addiction can cause mental illness but mental illness does not cause addiction. However, some mental illnesses, especially those that are not quickly diagnosed and treated, can trigger the use of alcohol and drugs.

Depressive disorders often cause acutely uncomfortable feelings such as overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, numbness, isolation, sleep disorders, digestive and food-related disorders. It is tempting, if medications aren’t being prescribed or used properly, for people suffering from depression to self-medicate.

Richard ZwolinskiRichard Zwolinski, is a psychotherapist and addiction specialist with more than 25 years of experience. He also serves as a consultant to organizations in the field of mental health and addiction. He has served on the Ethics Committee for New York State Mental Health Counselors Association for the last eight years. He is also the author of the book “Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move on Without Wasting Time or Money.”
Editor: Arman Ahmed

This can compound the depression and make it far worse. A drink or two, a line of cocaine or two, might temporarily relieve some symptoms, but the backlash when the chemical leaves the body brings the depression to new lows. This “withdrawal depression” happens each time an abused chemical leaves the body, though many people don’t experience severe symptoms at first. The withdrawal depression itself can trigger the use of more alcohol or drugs because they will help get rid of the bad feelings.

Another compounding problem is that if drugs and alcohol are being used while medication is being taken, the alcohol or drugs can actually potentiate—make stronger—or deactivate the medication. Either way, this can put the person in medical danger.

Watch a video on Dr Sadaqat on stress management and depression
Dr Sadaqat Ali talks about Stress management and depression


Because of their personal life-shattering experiences with substance abuse, some people in recovery are leery of using any drugs, even prescribed ones. They have faced traumatic experiences with addiction and have a difficult time coming to terms with the necessity for medication intervention. In fact, I have had patients who have quit drinking or drugging the hard way—through willpower or cold turkey—yet are willing to endure the horrible symptoms of depression rather than take medication. Very often their social sober support network advises them to refrain from taking meds. Usually, this is not within the realm of the advisor’s authority. Dually-diagnosed patients (those with both mental illness and addiction) should speak with their psychiatrist about this issue, not a friend, no matter how well-intentioned.