Depression, Substance Abuse, and the ‘Pandemic Effect’

Man struggling with depression and addiction during the pandemic.

According to a study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health, depression rates among U.S. adults tripled from an average of 8.5% to 27.8% during the early months of 2020 with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic; this number saw a steady increase to 32.8% in 2021, with depression affecting 1 out of every 3 Americans. Mental illnesses such as depression have long been known to coincide with substance use disorders (SUD), and multiple national health studies have found that approximately half of individuals who experience a mental health issue during their lifetime will also develop SUD [1,2].

With the increased stressors that can accompany living through the ongoing pandemic, misuse or abuse of drugs or alcohol has become a widespread means of coping for many. Read on to discover how taking a break from the pressures of everyday life and undergoing a safe, comfortable detox from harmful addictive substances can have a positive effect on both mental and physical health.

What is the ‘Pandemic Effect’?

Since 2020, people all over the world have been faced with the unknown, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and frightening circumstances that have developed while fighting a global pandemic. During this uncertain time, individuals have been forced to distance themselves from one another during their normal routines of everyday life such as going to work or school, shopping for groceries, and attending family functions. Along with these basic social interactions, other major life events may also have been missed during the pandemic such as weddings, births, graduation ceremonies, and even the deaths and funerals of loved ones, some of which may have been caused by the coronavirus itself. The persistent disappointment, anxiety, and guilt that tend to follow have led to an increase in cases of self-isolation, which can be a major contributing factor in the onset of both depression and substance use disorder [3].

Related post: Alcohol Use Has Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Depression Can Happen to Anyone, At Any Time

Depression can occur to anyone, at any age or stage in life, and to people of any sex, race, or ethnic group, but is never considered a “normal” part of life. Although depression is a common mental condition, if it is not treated promptly and correctly it can lead to a debilitating and even dangerous emotional and physical state among those who suffer from it. Knowing the signs of depression, especially during times of increased stress, can be key in getting yourself or your loved ones the help that is needed to properly treat the disorder.

During a depressive episode, a person generally experiences feelings of sadness, hopelessness, low self-worth, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities that they would normally enjoy, for most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks. Other mood symptoms may also include excessive guilt, irritability or anger, and an inability to concentrate, among others. Depression can present as a number of physical symptoms as well, including but not limited to:

  • Feeling constantly tired or lacking enough energy to complete normal tasks
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Disturbed sleep patterns, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Unexplained changes in appetite or weight
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness or Irritability
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Withdrawing from social contact 

Although depression is a common medical condition that affects more than 16 million Americans every year, it should always be taken seriously. Seek help from a medical professional right away if depression worsens over time, or if thoughts of self-harm or suicide have occurred, even if they have not been acted upon [4,5,6].

Related post: The Link Between Anxiety and Addiction: What’s the Connection?

Signs That You or a Loved One May be Developing SUD

Signs of substance use disorder may vary widely from person to person but can include changes in behavioral, physical, or social patterns that can potentially also lead to addiction. Addiction, the most severe form of SUD, is characterized by someone continuing a harmful behavior (such as abusing drugs or alcohol) without regard to any negative consequences it may cause to themselves or others. There are several red flags that can help you determine if you or someone you know may be suffering from SUD or active addiction, such as:

  • Unexplained changes in personality
  • A rapid change in weight or appetite
  • Red, bloodshot eyes and abnormally sized pupils
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or anger
  • Suspicious, secretive behavior
  • A drop in attendance or performance at work or school
  • Sudden lack of motivation or interest in activities or hobbies
  • A change in the friends or locations they associate with or at
  • An unexplained need for more and more money
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, or “letting themselves go”
  • Lack of coordination
  • Becoming withdrawn or isolated [7]

Depression and SUD: Which Happens First?

Studies have shown that many of the factors that contribute to depression also play a part in the development of SUD. As such, it can be difficult at times to discern if SUD led to depression or vice versa.

Alcohol and drug misuse and abuse can aggravate or worsen the symptoms of depression by acting as depressants on the central nervous system and may also alter the physical makeup of the brain itself. When SUD and depression are diagnosed as co-occurring conditions, it is important to address each separate issue to ensure that proper treatment is provided.

The best way to achieve a positive treatment outcome for SUD and depression is to seek professional help at a facility that provides both mental health and substance abuse resources and that has a staff that is cross-trained in the treatment of both problems [8].

There is Help For Both Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems

If you notice any of the warning signs listed above, contacting a professional detox or rehab facility such as Briarwood Detox Center or Nova Recovery Center can be a positive first step in getting your or a loved one’s mental and physical health back on the right track. Detoxing from addictive substances at home without medical assistance can be unpredictable, dangerous, and may also contribute to longer-lasting, more severe withdrawal symptoms. Completing a medical detox program is the safest and most effective way to get sober.

At Briarwood Detox Centers in Austin and Houston, TX, and Colorado Springs, CO, individuals who are working to achieve a life of sobriety will find the highest quality addiction treatment in a space that fosters acceptance for all, encourages honest and open communication, and meets your unique treatment needs in a judgment-free environment. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and mental health and feel like you are ready to take the first step towards building a lifetime of sobriety, please call (512) 262-4426 or contact us online today.


  1. Depression Rates in US Tripled When the Pandemic First Hit—Now, They’re Even Worse | The Brink | Boston University
  2. The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov)
  3. The “Loneliness Epidemic” | U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration
  4. Depression (major depressive disorder) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
  5. Depression (who.int)
  6. Depression | Mental Health America (mhanational.org)
  7. Signs of Substance Use Disorder – Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (asapbc.org)
  8. Depression & Substance Abuse Treatment Plans, Medication, Therapy

, ,

Get Help Now

    Call Now Button