substance-induced mood disorder

When Your Mood Disorder is Caused by Substance Use

In medical terms, a mood disorder is any mental illness that disrupts the natural emotional state. Clinical depression affects nearly 24 million adults and adolescents in the United States. Bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder affects more than 1 in 25 people. They can be catalyzed by many factors ranging from genetics to substance abuse. In the latter case, we refer to the diagnosis as a substance-induced mood disorder.

The primary mood-disorder symptom is regularly feeling unhappy, irritable or sometimes euphoric, irrespective of any outside circumstances or physical illness. (Although physical symptoms such as aches and pains, poor appetite and insomnia are common.)  

Many people with mood disorders can control their emotions well enough to carry on “normal” everyday life, but they show limited initiative, tire easily and may “melt down” over innocuous disruptions. Other people become openly antisocial, withdrawing from the world or even attempting suicide.

Substance Abuse and Mood Disorder

Exact causes of mood disorder are typically difficult to pinpoint, although greater prevalence among adolescents and women may indicate a hormonal element. Other known risk factors include:

  • A family history of mood or sleep disorders
  • Emotional trauma
  • Lack of social support
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Use of some medications or drugs

Where drug use is a factor, the disorder itself may be substance-induced. In such a case, a person often starts by taking drugs to reduce stress or for the euphoric high, but ultimately finds the “feel-good” substance to have the opposite effect, generating long and intense periods of depression in the aftermath of every dose.

Whether any individual will develop substance-induced mood disorder from any specific drug is not something that can be predicted in advance. Many drug users never have that particular problem, and those who do may get it from almost any improperly used substance: alcohol or opioids (depressants), amphetamines or cocaine (stimulants), inhalants or hallucinogens.

Is This Mood Disorder Substance-Induced?

Neither is it always clear whether substance abuse/addiction causes a mood disorder or simply co-occurs with it. About half of people with mental disorders also have some degree of substance abuse problems, including one-third of people with major depression and 30 to 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder. Answering the question of what caused what—or whether a third factor triggered both conditions—can be like answering the classic chicken-or-egg paradox.

A doctor who suspects substance-induced mood disorder will in fact give serious consideration to “which came first.” If the mood disorder is known to predate the substance use—or if symptoms of the disorder become evident a month or more after the last actual use of the substance—the disorder is unlikely to be substance-induced. Nor is depression considered substance-induced if it is concurrent with addiction withdrawal and subsides when other withdrawal symptoms do.

If a disorder is substance-induced, it will begin with typical mood-related symptoms that develop during or after an intoxication period. Where substance abuse is regular, post-intoxication “black moods” become ongoing, sometimes lingering long into the sobriety period and often seriously impairing overall life function. However, a mood disorder that is purely substance-induced will usually disappear on its own after a few weeks of abstinence.

Treating Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

Most mood disorders are treated with therapy and often medication. With substance-induced mood disorder, however, giving up the drug use is usually sufficient to resolve the mood problems as well. But if the drug use is due to a substance use disorder (addiction), quitting isn’t all that simple. Going into withdrawal may intensify mood-related symptoms, perhaps to the point of suicide attempts. Other possible withdrawal dangers include:

  • Dehydration from severe vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Failure of vital functions due to breathing difficulties, accelerated heart rate or stress on other organs

Because of the risks, anyone diagnosed with substance-induced mood disorder should also be evaluated for substance use disorder, and—if the diagnosis is positive—should undertake detoxification in an addiction-medicine hospital under qualified medical supervision, then have post-detox counseling to prevent the drug use (and the mood disorder) from returning. Recovery is often a long road, but the relief from physical and emotional pain is always worth the journey.

Compassionate Care for Mood Disorders

You don’t have to endure the pain of a mood disorder alone. Whether mild-to-moderate psychiatric impairment is substance-induced or has some other cause, Serene Behavioral Health provides experienced care and support to help you on the road to recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our approach.

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