The Relationship Between Depression and Long-Term Opioid Use

As America’s opioid epidemic continues, new concerns come to light. While researchers recommend that those with depression and chronic pain avoid long-term use of painkillers, these drugs are still widely prescribed to those within this population. Over time, this results in adverse outcomes, including addiction and rapidly declining mental health. Today, we’d like to explore the relationship between depression and long-term opioid use.

Understanding Long-Term Opioid Use Among Depressed Individuals

In an article for The Clinical Journal of Pain, Dr. Mark D. Sullivan conducted a thorough review of the relation between opioid use, addiction, and depression. He found that depressed patients were slightly more likely to be prescribed opioid therapy. However, when compared to the general population, they were twice as likely to continue using prescription painkillers in the long term.

Dr. Sullivan believes that this connection is a matter of self-selection. This means that those with depression and chronic pain may choose to remain on opioids in response to physical and mental stressors – even if their pain is less intense. They may also choose to take these drugs to address stress-induced insomnia.

What are the consequences of long-term opioid use among depressed patients? The answer is multifaceted.

Results of Long-Term Opioid Misuse

Continuing to take opioid medications over a long period of time can cause serious physical and mental ramifications. Chief among these is the risk of addiction: a deep dependence on painkillers that can ruin one’s life. Even when a person takes opioids as directed, they may quickly develop a tolerance and require higher doses to get the same effects. This, combined with withdrawal side effects upon cessation, indicates the beginnings of chemical dependency.

Signs of opioid addiction include:

  • Craving them, even when they are not medically necessary
  • Continuing to take opioids, even when they exacerbate health issues
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Reduced motivation
  • Avoiding one’s responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Worsened performance at work or school

Research shows that long-term opioid use also increases the risk of cardiovascular events, bowel obstruction, fractures, sleep apnea, hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain), myocardial infarction, tooth decay, and immunosuppression. Additionally, depression is considered a consequence of using these drugs for a long time.

How Opioids Affect Mental Health

Opioid drugs fundamentally change the brain. These substances are central nervous system depressants. This means that they slow the body; they also affect the brain’s reward and pleasure systems, along with one’s hormone levels. These factors combine to create the exact circumstances required for worsened depression symptoms.

Signs of depression include:

  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts
  • Losing interest in one’s favorite hobbies
  • Changes in sleeping patterns and eating habits
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

This mental illness can seriously impact one’s ability to function in daily life. Depression dramatically reduces a person’s motivation and energy levels. This can result in poor performance at work and relationship problems. With proper treatment, however, it is possible for those with a history of addiction to overcome depression.

Help for Depression and Opioid Use Disorder

Fortunately for those dealing with both depression and opioid use disorder, help is available. Dual diagnosis programs, like those offered at The Last Resort, provide treatment for both conditions at once. This approach provides the best possible support for men struggling with addiction and mental illness.

At The Last Resort, we treat men with dual diagnosis through a multitude of diverse therapies. Immersive experiences, like equine therapy, combine with in-depth psychotherapy sessions that address the issues fueling one’s addiction. Additionally, group therapy and 12-Step meetings offer the fellowship and structure necessary for recovery.

If you are concerned about a loved one’s substance use, contact The Last Resort. Our compassionate staff members are standing by to answer any questions you may have about depression, opioid addiction, or the treatment process.