How Depression Increases Risks For Drug Overdose
A drug overdose occurs when an individual takes enough of a substance to overload the body’s organ systems and create a sharp drop in the ability to sustain life. Some people die from the impact of an overdose, while others manage to survive with or without medical assistance. In a study review published in January 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a team of Italian and British researchers sought to determine how the presence of major depression or some other depressive disorder affects the likelihood that a drug user will experience a non-fatal overdose.
ER Treatment For Overdosing On Painkillers
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) track drug overdose rates across the U.S. According to the CDC’s latest available statistics (from 2011), roughly 2.5 million Americans require emergency room treatment for an overdose each year. More than half of all cases (about 1.4 million) occur in people using a medication rather than an illegal substance. Medications specifically highlighted for their presence in overdose cases include opioid narcotic painkillers and sedative-hypnotics called benzodiazepines.
Some people unintentionally overdose on drugs or medications while involved in prescribed or recreational use. However, others overdose intentionally while attempting to commit suicide. More than half of all people successfully or unsuccessfully treated for an overdose are men or boys. Slightly more than four out of every five overdose cases occur in adults over the age of 20.
Types Of Depressive Disorders
In addition to major depression, the depressive disorder category of mental health ailments (which comes from terms established by the American Psychiatric Association) includes conditions called persistent depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. The category also includes substance/medication-induced depressive disorder, a term specifically used to identify depression cases triggered by short- or long-term drug, alcohol or medication intake.
All depressive illnesses include episodes of “down” moods that substantially damage the ability to achieve a sense of well-being or function normally from day to day. The intensity and duration of these episodes vary according to both the effects of each specific illness and the way in which that illness manifests in the individual. People affected by another group of conditions, called bipolar disorders, also experience periods of a prominently “down” mood. One bipolar disorder in particular, called bipolar I disorder, produces periods of depression equally as severe as those found in people diagnosed with major depression.
Depression’s Impact On Non-Fatal Overdoses
In the study review published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from five British and Italian institutions used a comprehensive analysis of previous research efforts to examine how the presence of a depressive disorder affects an individual’s non-fatal overdose risks. This analysis, based on seven studies, included essentially all commonly available information published on a related topic in the U.S. or Europe through September 2012. All told, the studies under consideration included 12,019 people living in the U.S., Australia, Sweden, Canada and Norway.
The researchers used two measurements to assess the impact of depression. First, they compared the overall rate of non-fatal drug overdose among depressed people to the rate of non-fatal overdose among people not affected by depression. They also calculated the odds that any given depressed drug user will overdose non-fatally and compared those odds to the chances that any given non-depressed drug user will overdose non-fatally.
The researchers found that depressed individuals overdose non-fatally 7 percent more often than non-depressed individuals. While this difference may seem small, it is actually highly significant in statistical terms. The researchers also found that, when compared to a non-depressed drug-using person, the odds that any given depressed drug-using person will experience a non-fatal overdose are 1.45 to 1.
Potential Factors Why Depression Leads To Higher Risks For Non-Fatal Drug Overdoses
The authors of the study review published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence don’t know for sure why depressed people have higher risks for a non-fatal drug overdose; potential factors may include higher drug dosages in depressed people and higher chances for multidrug use (a known contributor to overdose) in depressed people. They also note that no one can assume that the same situation holds true for fatal drug overdoses until someone comprehensively explores that issue. Still, they believe their findings clearly show that the connection between depressive illnesses and non-fatal drug overdoses is real. They also believe that the same connection probably exists between depressive illnesses and fatal drug overdoses.
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