• Sophia Carter

Why People Use Substances to Cope with Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are mental health disorders that can take a toll on the quality of one’s life. They may constantly find themselves feeling stressed, fearful, hopeless, guilty, and several other emotions. When someone is feeling this way and cannot seem to shake these feelings, it is often best to seek the help of a mental health professional. There is, however, a stigma placed around therapy and mental health in many cultures. This stigma has caused many people to fear seeking the help they need, leading them to seek other solutions instead.



When dealing with these disorders, one will search for any solution that may help them feel “normal” again- even if that “normal” does not last. Substances like drugs, food, or alcohol can bring those who suffer from depression or anxiety that feeling of “normality” or comfort that they are searching for. The substance often feels like temporary relief from the difficult emotions and feelings that accompany these mental health issues.


Substance Use and Depression

Depression is a severe mood disorder in which the sufferer experiences feelings of hopelessness, guilt, sadness, despair. Depression can lead to changes in mood, eating habits, sleeping habits, motivation, and, in severe cases, death. Often, depression and addiction go hand in hand. It is not uncommon to find cases of people who suffer from depression developing an addiction and vice-versa.


There are stigmas in many different cultures that have been placed around depression. For instance, men are often raised to be tough in many cultures, while women fear being stereotyped as hysterical. Unfortunately, these stigmas prevent many people suffering from depression to seek the help they may need.


So, how do they cope with these negative feelings and emotions? Many people turn to substances like food, alcohol, or drugs to help them cope with their negative emotions. These substances may provide them with temporary relief from their feelings, granting them the chance to feel nothing. Substances like alcohol and certain drugs can give those struggling with depression a burst of energy that allows them to feel as though they are almost “themselves” again.


As the effect of the substance begins to wear off, the person may fall into a pattern of self-medication to attempt to maintain that high provided to them by their substance. This can lead to the development of substance dependency or substance abuse.

Many people who suffer from addiction have also been found to develop depression. This is because many substances, like alcohol and stimulants, alter the chemical reactions within the body and the brain, which can offset one’s chemical balance. The chemical imbalance within the brain caused by the use of substances can lead to the development of depression.


Substance Use and Anxiety

People may find a similar relief to depression from the consumption of certain substances with their anxiety disorders. Like depression, anxiety disorders have a stigma placed around them that incites fear of judgment and prevents those who suffer from anxiety from seeking the help they need. The substances and relief that someone who suffers from anxiety may be seeking are dependent on which type of anxiety disorder they may be suffering from and how it affects them personally.


For example, someone who suffers from social anxiety may seek the help of alcohol to give them more confidence and calm their nerves when they are placed in a social setting. However, the problem with this is that those who suffer from a social anxiety disorder may find the alcohol makes their social anxiety worse. They may become dependent on it more and more, eventually needing it for just about every social interaction they must endure. Alcohol use will begin to become a crutch and will likely take a toll on the person’s romantic life, friendships, reputation, and overall quality of life.


Are You Using Substances to Cope With Your Anxiety or Depression?

It can be hard to be subjective about whether or not you are using substances for simple enjoyment or depending on them to help you cope with the mental health issues you are experiencing. Developing an awareness of the reasons behind your substance use is essential for your mental health, physical health, and overall quality of life. There are a few signs you can watch out for to determine whether or not you are using substances to cope with your anxiety or depression. These signs can include:

  • Turning to substances when you are experiencing negative emotions. If you find that every time something goes wrong or leaves you feeling upset, you turn to a substance like drugs or alcohol, this can be a sure sign that you are using these substances to cope with negative emotions, rather than dealing with them in a healthy and productive manner.

  • Finding yourself needing to use higher quantities of the substances more often to feel their effects. Substances like alcohol and certain drugs send a surge of dopamine to your mind. The more often your mind is hit with this surge of dopamine, the less sensitive your mind becomes to it. To feel the substance’s effects, you will need to increase your intake constantly.

  • Loved ones are worrying about your substance use. It is a very common occurrence to be unable to see when you have a problem. When those around you begin to notice and say something about your substance use, you may want to consider seeking the advice of a medical professional. Your first instinct may be to become defensive, but if you pause to actually consider what your loved ones are saying, you may realize that you do need help.

Seeking Help

Struggling with depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder can feel scary and lonely. You do not have to experience these feelings alone, though. There are many treatment options that have provided tons of people with relief from their mental health issues. Contact a mental health professional at Rhapsody Behavioral Healthcare today to begin your path to healing.


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