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Understanding Depression and Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a complex medical condition that can affect just about anyone of any age -- from any walk of life. It can target people who suffer from co-occurring disorders, including depression. While certain risk factors may make certain individuals more vulnerable to developing OUD, the disorder does not discriminate.

Adolescents and young adults may be more susceptible to OUD due to the ongoing development of the brain's frontal cortex, which governs decision-making and impulse control. Some people with a history of chronic pain or mental health disorders like depression or bipolar disorder are also at higher risk. Nearly one-third of people with opioid use disorder have a co-occurring mental health disorder, and nearly 48% of people who are dependent on opioids are also diagnosed with depression.

What Drugs Do People With OUD Take?

The types of drugs associated with opioid use disorder include prescription narcotics such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, as well as street drugs like "M30s" or heroin. The misuse of prescription opioids, often prescribed for pain management, is a common gateway to the development of OUD. The highly addictive nature of opioids can lead to substance use disorder. According to the National Center For Drug Abuse Statistics, 9.3 million Americans abuse opioids every year.

It is crucial to recognize opioid use disorder as a genuine medical condition rather than a moral failing. Like other chronic diseases, OUD can be effectively treated with a combination of Medication-Assisted Treatment, interventions, behavioral therapies, and support systems.

Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, helping people focus on recovery as they begin the recovery journey. Behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups play a role in assisting individuals to overcome OUD and maintain long-term recovery.

Opioid use disorder has touched every community and affects people of all ages, races, genders, and income levels. Recognizing what makes people vulnerable to OUD, the types of drugs involved, and recognizing OUD as a treatable medical condition are essential steps toward supporting those affected on their path to recovery.

How Common is OUD with Depression?

Many individuals with OUD often experience co-occurring mental health conditions, and depression is one of the most prevalent among them. The relationship between OUD and depression can be complex and bidirectional, meaning that one condition can contribute to the development or exacerbation of the other.

Research published in 2022 by Translational Psychology found a substantial proportion of individuals with OUD also have co-occurring depression. The prevalence of this co-occurrence varies, but many people with OUD also meet the criteria for a depression disorder.

The relationship between depression and opioid use can have many causes. People may also live with other factors, such as chronic pain and social isolation, contributing to further depressive tendencies.

Substance use, including opioids, can indeed have an impact on mental health, potentially worsening symptoms of depression. Opioids can affect neurotransmitter systems in the brain, leading to changes in mood and contributing to depressive symptoms. The destructive outcomes associated with substance use disorders, such as social problems, legal issues, and financial strain, can contribute to feelings of despair and exacerbate pre-existing depression.

OUD and Depression: Common Symptoms

Opioid use disorder (OUD) and depression can share specific symptoms, and it can be challenging to distinguish between the two. Some people with depression may misuse opioids as a form of self-medication, further complicating the picture.

Here are some overlapping symptoms that may be indicative of both opioid use disorder and depression:

  • Changes in Mood: People with OUD may experience euphoria or excessive sedation during opioid use, followed by irritability or dysphoria during withdrawal. Depressed people are already trying to cope with persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness. This may be why they chase the euphoric feelings.
  • Social Withdrawal: With OUD, people may withdraw from social activities to hide their substance use or due to the effects of opioids. Social isolation is a common symptom of depression, and people with either disorder may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: OUD can cause disrupted sleep patterns, including excessive sleepiness or insomnia. With depression, insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleep) are common symptoms.
  • Changes in Appetite: People with opioid use disorder may experience changes in appetite, often with weight loss. The same holds true for depression.
  • Fatigue: Opioid misuse can lead to fatigue and lethargy. Persistent fatigue and lack of energy are also symptoms of depression.
  • Lack of Interest in Life: People using opioids and people with depression often stop doing things they once loved.

If you suspect a loved one is using opioids to self-medicate depression, it's essential to look for specific symptoms of addiction and speak with them or schedule an intervention. If they are experiencing depression alone, it's important to offer to help them get the treatment they need. The same is true if they are suffering from opioid use disorder.

Approach the situation with empathy and support. Encourage open communication, express your concerns non-judgmentally, and suggest seeking professional help. Both OUD and depression are treatable disorders. With therapy and medications, if appropriate, a person with both disorders can improve their quality of life.

 Getting Help for Opioid Use Disorder

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use, we're here to help. We can offer therapy support and referrals if needed. We also provide people in North Carolina with Medication-Assisted treatment if recommended. Learn more about our services by getting in touch.

 

If you are in need of help, please call us at: 910-295-7246 or message us.

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