Substance-induced mood disorder is any significant mood shift that is brought about directly and exclusively by the use of substances such as prescription medications, drugs or alcohol. These disorders differ from primary mood disorders such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder because, unlike their counterparts which arise independently of substance use, substance-induced disorders only occur in conjunction with the ingestion of substances. 

Substance-induced mood disorders often present as a variant of bipolar disorder or depression, but may also be classified as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The mood disorders may be triggered during routine medication use, intoxication, withdrawal, or all of the above. 

Types and Symptoms of Substance-Induced Mood Disorders

The symptoms of substance-induced disorders vary greatly based on the particular substance that is consumed. Drug use alters the way that neurotransmitters in the brain perceive, process and respond to input, which can have a major impact on mood as well as behavior patterns. It is reasonable to assume that just as different drugs affect the brain differently, they can also create differing disorders accordingly. Let’s look at some specific substances and see what kind of effects and mood disorders they can produce. 

Common substances that are associated with substance-induced mood disorder include but are not limited to: 

  • Alcohol
  • Antidepressants 
  • Anxiety medication
  • Hallucinogens 
  • Opioids 
  • Oral contraceptives 
  • Sedatives 
  • Stimulants 
  • Cocaine 

Stimulants, or substances that increase heart rate and activate the nervous system, can speed up the rate of processing happening in the brain. Stimulants range from caffeine to cocaine to amphetamines. They are known to increase energy, and confidence and may induce a state of euphoria for the duration of their use. On the other hand, withdrawal symptoms from stimulants can include depression, irritation, anxiety or shortness of temper. The DSM-5 states that stimulant users must demonstrate a pattern of drug use followed by marked impairment or distress within twelve months. Stimulants are associated with the mood disorders of anxiety, depression and paranoia, to name a few.

Depressants, or substances that relax the nervous system such as alcohol, opioids or heroin, slow the nervous system and create feelings of euphoria. Conversely, withdrawal symptoms and connected mood disorders can include depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations. Drug-induced depression can be particularly difficult to contend with, as the depression can be exacerbated, or even caused, by antidepressants themselves. 

Alcohol-induced mood disorder is a comparatively common phenomenon as alcohol is a widely used substance, however the symptoms are sometimes downplayed and credited to standard side effects of use or overuse. Alcohol is a powerful substance, however, as consumption causes a release of dopamine in the brain, increasing the flow of input to pleasure receptors and decreasing input to pain receptors. When the dopamine supply runs out, the user can be left feeling depressed or dysphoric. While this might manifest itself in an uncharacteristic weepy end to a drunk Saturday night, chronic drinking-induced depression may be a sign of a deeper issue. 

The Mystery Behind Substance-Induced Mood Disorders

It is important to note that substance-induced mood disorders often go undetected, as the substances are sometimes only linked with a positive or medical association in the user’s mind. For example, if someone is using hormonal contraceptives and simultaneously experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, they may never think to correlate the two. Other covert culprits include antibiotics, steroids, dermatological medicines and chemotherapy medication. 

Additionally, many people fail to disclose vital information about drug and alcohol use to their care providers out of fear of judgment or condemnation. While this may be well within one’s right, excessive timidity around these topics makes it impossible to diagnose and treat mood disorders that may be having a profoundly negative impact on the person’s daily life. It is important to be as honest as possible with your care provider if you think you may be suffering from a substance-induced mood disorder.

Lastly, the preexistence of primary mood disorders that are unrelated to substances such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder, can complicate the identification and diagnosis of substance-induced mood disorder. Substances may worsen the existing mood disorder, intensifying its severity.

Treatment for Substance-Induced Mood Disorders

There are two aspects to treating mood disorders directly associated with substance use. Firstly, the care provider must address, and potentially discontinue substance use. This process is advisable to conduct with the guidance of a professional, as potentially severe withdrawal symptoms may threaten one’s overall health to an even greater degree. 

The second part of the equation is to regulate mood. This may be done through natural methods such as increased exercise, time outside and community activities. It could however require medical support to correct chemical imbalances in the brain until the substance which caused the original mood disorder is fully detoxed from the body.

Find Support for Substance-Induced Mood Disorders

If you think that you or a loved one may be struggling with substance-induced mood disorders, help is only a click or phone call away. Reach out to October Road today for an informational consultation and learn about your treatment options for a brighter future.

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