By: Ava
July 26, 2021

Heroin Addiction and Depression: Are the Two Related?

Table of Contents

Short answer: yes, heroin addiction and depression can be related.

Taking a step further back from heroin specifically though, it’s safe to say that mental disorders and substance use disorders, in general, are entangled to varying degrees.

It’s known as comorbidity or as dual diagnosis/co-occurring disorders. In brief, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines it as, “two or more disorders or illnesses occurring in the same person. They can occur at the same time or one after the other. Comorbidity also implies interactions between the illnesses that can worsen the course of both”.

Studies have shown a clear connection between the two, with NIDA noting, “around 1 in 4 individuals with serious mental illnesses also have a substance use order”.

Serious mental illnesses include disorders that cause significant impairment like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and yes, depression, among others.

Given the way heroin affects the brain, there’s a pronounced link between it and depression which we’ll get to at the bottom.

What Is Heroin?

As per NIDA, “heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia”.

Just seeing the word opioid here will likely evoke a visceral response. The country has been in the throes of an epidemic for 2 decades already with drug overdose deaths taking around 841,000 lives since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Concerning heroin specifically, the CDC adds that “nearly 130,000 people died from overdoses related to heroin between 1999 and 2019”.

What Is Depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is more than just feeling a bit sad now and then.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes it as a serious mood disorder which ”causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks”.

There are a few main types of depression, which are:

Persistent depressive disorder – chronic depression that lasts for at least 2 years. Not necessarily every day but more depressing days than not.

Postpartum depression – extreme sadness experienced by some women after giving birth

Psychotic depression – depression mixed with a form of psychosis

Seasonal affective disorder – this happens to many people during winter when there’s less sunlight, typically it goes away once spring and summer arrive

Bipolar disorder – the lows associated with bipolar disorder can meet the requirements for being classed as depression. Of course, on the flip side, these are accompanied by mania or extreme euphoria.

Are Heroin Addiction and Depression Related? 

The nature of how heroin addiction and depression are related can be largely chalked up to how heroin, and all opioids, affect the brain.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes it as such; “heroin binds to and activates specific receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors (MORs). Our bodies contain naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that bind to these receptors throughout the brain and body to regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of well-being. When MORs are activated in the reward center of the brain, they stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing a reinforcement of drug taking behavior”.

It’s this euphoria that’s addictive and the rewiring of the brain that makes it so hard to stop.

Heroin users will chase that rush and take ever-increasing doses to get that same rush.

Given that, depression is common for those going through heroin withdrawal.

Going back to the idea of co-occurring disorders making each individual disorder worse; heroin can make depression worse and depression can make heroin use more intense. It’s escapism. It’s coping with trauma. It’s being self-aware enough to know how society looks at addiction but not being able to stop using it because the pull towards the drug is just too strong.

These things and more compound to make matters worse.

Getting out of it alive is possible with dedicated, individualized and intensive treatment from addiction specialists who understand what you’re going through.

Get in touch with us at Multi Concept Recovery to learn more about our treatment program for co-occurring disorders.