Substance Abuse and Dysthymia

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Dysthymia is a type of mood disorder that can also be referred to as chronic depression or neurotic depression. Dysthymia often mirrors many similar physical and cognitive disturbances as depression but often has symptoms that endure for a longer period of time.

Dysthymia can be characterized by the following symptoms, which commonly occur in individuals who suffer with this condition:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Decreased energy
  • Minimal drive to engage in daily activities
  • Poor capacity for pleasure in activities
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Trouble concentrating of making decisions
  • Excessive anger and/or irritability
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Avoidance of social activities

The Relationship Between Dysthymia and Substance Abuse

Studies have shown that approximately 75 percent of individuals who struggle with dysthymia also suffer with another psychiatric disorder, such as drug addiction or alcoholism1. People with dysthymia may be more inclined to look towards drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with the intense and overwhelming emotions that are often associated with dysthymia or numbing themselves from the condition they find themselves in.

The struggle with dysthymia can be an isolating journey. If you have been dealing with dysthymia, you may feel unable to share your struggles with other people or those closest to you. It can be difficult to put into words what you are experiencing on a daily basis. Perhaps substance use has become a way for you to cope with a situation that is often overwhelming and discouraging.

Seeking the Help That You Need Without Shame

man-568389_640It is encouraging to know that you are not alone in your struggle. Segregating yourself from the help and care you need will only push you further into distress, complicating the consequences that may result from dysthymia and substance abuse.

There are treatment programs and resources that can help you address these concerns simultaneously and put you on the path that leads to recovery and freedom from these mental illnesses. By receiving integrative care that combines psychotherapy, rehabilitation, a medication management, you can find yourself making progress towards healing and restoration.

Speaking out for yourself and admitting your struggle is often the first and most necessary step towards recovery. Be sure to communicate with someone you trust and openly admit your concerns.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you struggled with dysthymia and co-occurring substance abuse? What aspects of treatment were helpful to you in finding recovery, healing, and restoration?


  1. “Dysthymia”. Harvard Health Publications (Harvard University). February 2005. Archived from the original (FEBRUARY 2005 ISSUE OF THE HARVARD MENTAL HEALTH LETTER) on 6 January 2010. ACCESSED 10 MAY 2015.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 2nd, 2015
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