Study Finds Link Between Depression and First Use of Drugs or Alcohol

Youths with depression more likely to drink or use drugs.
May 3, 2007

Youths who faced depression in the past year were twice as likely as those who did not have depression to take their first drink or use drugs for the first time, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The NSDUH Report: Depression and the Initiation of Alcohol and Other Drug Use among Youths Aged 12 to 17 showed that in 2005 2.2 million youths experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. For these estimates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a major depressive episode is defined as a period of two weeks or longer during which there is depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration and self-image.

Among youths who had not used alcohol before, 29.2 percent of those who faced depression took their first drink in the past year, while 14.5 percent of youths who did not have a major depressive episode took their first drink. And 16.1 percent of youths who faced depression and had not previously used illicit drugs began drug use; in contrast, 6.9 percent of youths who did not have a major depressive episode began drug use.

The rates of first-time use for specific drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and non-medical use of prescription drugs, showed a similar association between past year depression and drug initiation. The rates of drug initiation were higher for youths who reported depression in the past year than for those who did not.

“As National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, May 8, approaches, it’s important to remember that depression is real and painful for youths,” said Terry Cline, Ph.D., SAMHSA Administrator. “Recognizing depression early and helping youths receive appropriate help may prevent substance use.”

While 8.8 percent of youths overall reported depression in the past year, the rate grew gradually with age. Among 12-year-olds, 4.3 percent had faced depression in the past year, but the percentage climbed to 11.9 percent of 17-year-olds.

Among young women, the rate of depression was triple that for young men, 13.3 percent vs. 4.5 percent. Rates across racial/ethnic groups were similar.

According to the 2005 estimates, 2.7 million youths—about 15.4 percent of youths who had not tried drinking—took their first drink during the past year. And 1.5 million youths, or 7.6 percent of those at risk, used drugs for the first time.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is an annual survey sponsored by SAMHSA. The survey collects data by administering questionnaires to a representative sample of the population through face-to-face interviews at their place of residence.

Source: Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

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