People taking certain medications or using intoxicating substances have an increased risk of developing what is known as a substance-induced mood disorder. Around 50% of individuals who suffer from alcohol or opioid use disorder also experience substance-induced depression. Substance-induced depression is one condition that falls under the umbrella term “substance-induced mood disorders.” Learn more about substance-induced mood disorders and the treatment options available.

What Is Substance-Induced Mood Disorder?

A substance-induced mood disorder is a severe emotional disorder resulting from a substance’s physiological effects. These substances include drugs, medications, and heavy metals or toxins exposure. There are several different types of substance-induced mood disorders, and this is because other substances can have different effects on people. Substance-induced mood disorder is a broad term for a variety of conditions, including:

  • Substance-induced depressive disorder
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder
  • Substance-induced psychotic disorder
  • Substance-induced bipolar disorder
  • Substance-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder

In each case, the individual suffers from the associated disorder symptoms as a result of exposure to a substance or medication. For example, an alcoholic suffering from depression might be found to have a substance-induced depressive disorder.

Causes of Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

The primary cause of substance-induced mood disorders is exposure to certain substances and medications. This exposure could be the result of misusing substances or taking prescribed drugs.

Certain substances cause intoxication and can also have psychological effects during withdrawal, which most likely cause substance-induced mood disorders. The substances that can cause substance-induced mood disorder are split into four different categories. The most common causes are prescription medications and substances or medications that cause intoxication or stimulation.

1. Prescription Medications

Medications prescribed for certain conditions can cause adverse reactions in some people. These effects are often exacerbated if the medicines are mixed with other substances, such as alcohol.

Psychotropic and antianxiety medications are a leading cause of substance-induced mood disorders. Sedatives such as barbiturates may also cause the condition, as well as steroids and heart medications prescribed for hypertension and other heart issues.

2. Substances and Medications That Cause Intoxication or Stimulation

Substances and medications that cause stimulation and intoxication can cause substance-induced mood disorders. The use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, hallucinogens, and amphetamines can result in the condition. Substance-induced mood disorder is also associated with cannabis, tobacco, alcohol, and coffee.

3. Exposure to Heavy Metals

Heavy metal exposure can occur as a result of inhaling tiny metal molecules. It can also be caused by ingesting food or water that contains heavy metals. The skin can also absorb small heavy metal particles. Small amounts of heavy metals are harmless, but repeated exposure to such metals as lead, arsenic, mercury, and chromium can be problematic.

4. Exposure to Toxins

There are several toxins in products used in specific work environments or around the home. Some of these can cause substance-induced mood disorders. While these toxins are seldom harmful when used correctly, misuse and over-exposure can cause problems. The most common toxins associated with substance-induced mood disorder include those in paint and paint thinners, pesticides, and some glues and adhesives.

Substance-induced misuse disorders are common in individuals who suffer from substance misuse disorders. Researchers believe that these substances cause substance-induced mental disorders because exposure to them can interfere with neural circuits and the transmission of chemical messengers in the brain.

Symptoms of Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

When someone suffers from a substance-induced mood disorder, their symptoms mimic the symptoms associated with other mental conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each instance of substance-induced mood disorder will often manifest as symptoms of one or more mental health conditions. Some of the most common symptoms displayed by someone with a substance-induced mood disorder include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Mania
  • Psychosis
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Feeling extremely sad, worthless, guilty, or hopeless
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Muscle tension
  • Lack of concentration
  • Suicidal ideation

The fact that these symptoms are mainly identical to those displayed by people suffering from other mental health conditions can make diagnosis difficult. Diagnosis is even more complicated if the person struggling with a substance-induced mood disorder is not open about the misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Diagnosis of Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

For a doctor to be able to distinguish between primary mental disorders and substance-induced mood disorders, they have to determine that the person is using or exposed to a substance or medication that can cause a substance-induced mental disorder. Once this is confirmed, a doctor must ascertain if the symptoms meet four criteria.

Firstly, a doctor must ensure that the symptoms appear within a month of exposure or withdrawal from a substance or medication. They will also need to check that symptoms did not develop before substance or medication use or exposure.

The symptoms must also occur beyond the active delirium caused by a substance or medication. They must also be reported as causing significant distress or impairment to the individual’s ability to function.

The individual will need to stop taking, using, or being exposed to a substance suspected of causing the disorder. A doctor will need to continue to observe the individual’s symptoms. A doctor must be able to see the differences in symptoms when an individual is actively being exposed to a substance and when they are not.

Treatment for Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

For most individuals, the treatment involves stopping the use, misuse, or exposure to substances or medications that have been found to cause the disorder. In more extreme cases, individuals might suffer more complicated and extreme symptoms. In this case, additional medical monitoring and support may be necessary during withdrawal.

If someone is suffering from a substance-induced depressive disorder, it can be beneficial to prescribe antidepressants to help while withdrawing from the causative substance or medication. Similarly, individuals who suffer from substance-induced mania or psychosis can benefit from second-generation antipsychotic medication for a short period.

Individuals can also benefit from talking therapies such as psychotherapy and counseling. Therapy is useful in helping individuals abstain from the substances that are causing the disorder.

Getting Healthy and Staying Healthy

In most cases, the symptoms of substance-induced mood disorders will resolve naturally within a month after exposure to the substance or medication has ceased. If the individual can remain unexposed, they will likely stay healthy. Lifestyle changes are a must to create an environment that reduces the risk of substance use or misuse.

Reach out to get help and get started on your road to recovery.