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Symptom Checker

Step 4: Read and complete the decision guide to learn more about your symptoms.


The tendency to become dependent on drinking or drugs is partly inherited. Sometimes the same genetic factors that lead to depression also result in addiction. Probably several genes working together control traits that make someone vulnerable to substance dependence. Some genes shape our preferences. Others influence our sensitivity to a substance's intoxicating effects. Still others govern how quickly we become physically addicted.

Alcohol and drugs can cause many medical problems. Substance abuse is linked to brain damage, stroke, liver disease, heart disease, digestive problems, and cancer. When substances impair judgment (as they often do), people do unhealthy things. They are more at risk for car accidents, drowning, and falling. They may engage in unsafe sex, exposing themselves to illnesses like HIV and herpes. Any of these things can contribute to depression.

In addition to the physical effects they cause, substances can create havoc in a person's life. Relationships become tenser. There is a higher risk of divorce and domestic violence. Work gets derailed, leading to poor school or work performance and ultimately unemployment.

People turn to substances initially as a balm or an escape from painful emotions. The substances, though, tend to amplify rather than reduce the stress in a person's life.

Depression and substance use feed each other. Sometimes substance abuse is a hidden reason why treatment for depression fails. No matter which comes first, it is always important to treat the depression and the substance problem together. Usually treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy, group support (like Alcoholics Anonymous), and medications.

There may be other factors that also are contributing to your symptoms.

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