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Substance Induced Mood Disorder – Depression From Drugs or Medications

Last Updated on February 19, 2021 by Inspire Malibu

Bouts of depression are incredibly common. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention estimates that around 16 million people in the U.S. struggle with a depressive episode in a given year.

Sometimes the reason for persistent sadness is clear, though in other situations there may be an underlying, external cause for depression.

Substance/Medication-induced Depression is a mental health condition that is triggered by the use of alcohol, illegal drugs and, in some cases, even prescription medications.

Substance Induced Mood Disorder - Depression From Alcohol, Drugs or Medications

What are Substance or Medication Induced Mood Disorders?

Conditions like substance-induced anxiety disorder are unique in that the psychiatric symptoms are caused by the use of a specific substance or medication. The anxiety will generally subside once the substance use is stopped or shortly thereafter.

If the symptoms of a mood disorder were present before a person began taking certain medications, drinking or using drugs, the diagnosis may likely be different.

What can be confusing is that some substances, such as alcohol, are what many people turn to when they want to feel better.

Alcohol, however is a central nervous system depressant, and chronic use and dependence can lead to full blown depression.

What Types of Substances Can Cause Mood Disorders?

Like alcohol, some prescription medications and illegal drugs change the natural chemistry of the brain, affecting the balance of neurotransmitters responsible for feel-good emotions, thoughts, feelings and actions.

4 Types of Drugs and Medications That Cause Mood Changes

Many different drugs or medications can alter mood in some way, and these are the most common categories:

1. Prescription Medications

Opioid painkillers, blood pressure meds, anti-anxiety and antidepressant prescriptions, as well as steroids, antibiotics, and others, can have a huge impact on mood and many are created to do just that.

2. Over the Counter Medications

Over the counter medications like decongestants can bring on symptoms for some people. These are all legally purchased and will usually only have a mild impact, if at all, depending on each person.

3. Alcohol

Alcohol is legal, but it is a mood-altering substance used socially and recreationally that can cause depression for many people.

4. Illegal or Recreational Substances

Illegal substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, hallucinogens like MDMA and LSD, and most illegal narcotics frequently cause mood disorders, especially when used to excess.

What are the Symptoms of Substance-induced Mood Disorders?

“Symptoms of substance-induced mood disorders run the gamut from mild anxiety and depression (these are the most common across all substances) to full-blown manic and other psychotic reactions (much less common),” according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Substance-induced Depressive Disorder Symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt
  • Losing interest in activities and people normally enjoyed
  • Lack of energy, difficulty sleeping or a loss of sex drive
  • Headaches and joint pains
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of Mania May Include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, speech and a constant restlessness
  • Feelings of grandeur and being “on top of the world”
  • Going for days without sleep
  • Impulsive and dangerous behaviors, like having unsafe sex or driving while intoxicated
  • Intense mood swings and aggression

How Soon Do Symptoms Develop?

Substance/medication-induced mood disorder symptoms can start either immediately after use, develop with chronic use, or may occur as a result of withdrawal from the substance or medication.

The SAMHSA report, however, notes that patients vary in how they respond to substances, both with intoxication and withdrawal.

Very often, people are using more than one substance at a time, which can complicate how an individual’s symptoms are interpreted and diagnosed.

For example, a person who is a regular alcohol drinker may be prescribed blood pressure medication. Either substance, as well as the combination of the two, can lead to substance-induced mood disorder symptoms.

“Most substance-induced symptoms,” they write, “begin to improve within hours or days after substance use has stopped.”

How is a Substance Induced Depressive Disorder Diagnosed?

When seeing a health care provider about the symptoms of depression, it’s vital to provide a list of all the medications and substances, like alcohol, marijuana or other illicit drugs you’re taking, as well as how much and with what frequency.

Being thorough and honest about any substance use, abuse, and even dependency is the first step in getting a proper diagnosis and treatment.

In many cases, the substance use may be causing the depression, and providing this information will help lead to a proper diagnosis and treatment.

If a person has not been using any alcohol, drugs, or medication prior to depression symptoms appearing, substance-induced depression can be ruled out as a cause.

Without being open and honest about all drug or medication use, it could be very difficult to pinpoint the cause of the symptoms.

How is it Treated and How Long Does it Last?

For prescription medication-induced depressive disorder, physicians are able to adjust dosages or perhaps, substitute a different medication with fewer or no depression-related side effects.

It’s important, though, to consult with a doctor before stopping medications or changing dosages.

Where substance abuse or dependence to alcohol or drugs is concerned, getting addiction treatment, along with therapy can be effective.

After a safe, physician monitored detox, most patients may notice they’re already feeling fewer symptoms of depression in as little as a few days.

Combined with one-on-one or group counseling, people are able to examine and identify the underlying drivers of substance abuse and how these affect mood and behavior.

Finally, approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) allow a person in recovery from addiction to adapt new ways of managing their thoughts, feelings and decisions in a much healthier and more productive way.


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