Does Depression Influence Abstinence in Young Adults with Chemical Dependence?

Abstinence self-efficacy (ASE) is one’s ability to abstain from alcohol or drug use and is a strong indicator of how an individual will respond to treatment. Although there are many factors that influence ASE, symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) are thought to be among the strongest factors that can impair one’s recovery. Existing research examining this relationship has focused on adults in general. But Brenna L. Greenfield of the Department of Psychology and Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions at the University of New Mexico wanted to discover how MDD affected ASE in a particularly vulnerable segment of the population: emerging adults. Individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 are more likely to engage in experimentation than any other age group. Young adults first begin to experience intimate relationships, career pressures, and independence during this time. And many of them also begin to explore drug and alcohol use. It is during this time that individuals are at the highest risk for the onset of psychological problems as well.

Because of this, there has been an increased effort to identify and implement treatment strategies that will help emerging adults maintain ASE, particularly those with depression. Although most young adults change their substance use behaviors as they enter their late 20s and early 30s, those with MDD and other mental health problems are less likely to decrease their dependence. Greenfield and her colleagues evaluated 302 individuals for depression at the beginning of a residential treatment program for substance misuse. The participants were also assessed during treatment, at the conclusion of treatment, and 3 months after treatment ended. The study revealed that the participants with MDD had lower rates of ASE than those without. However, all the participants increased their ASE as a result of the treatment. Previous research suggests that vocal or visual models of persuasion, such as the ones employed in group therapies and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, can increase the likelihood of ASE. This, Greenfield believes, is another area of investigation that should be explored further. “Future analyses should investigate whether these observed increases in ASE are specific to 12-step-based professional treatment and how different facets of depression affect self-efficacy over the full course of treatment and recovery.” She added, “In this way, we will better understand the specific role that ASE plays in the recovery experiences of treatment-seeking emerging adults.”

Greenfield, B. L., Venner, K. L., Kelly, J. F., Slaymaker, V., Bryan, A. D. (2012, January 30). The Impact of Depression on Abstinence Self-Efficacy and Substance Use Outcomes Among Emerging Adults in Residential Treatment. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026917

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  • Shayne


    February 8th, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    For many depressed people their drug and alcohol abuse is the way that they cope with being depressed. It is an excape, a way to try to get away

  • Keith


    February 9th, 2012 at 5:20 AM

    Sounds like this is something that would be particularly effective if the kids could then be followed into adulthood to help prevenet more pain in families that have to deal with depression.

  • Mills


    February 9th, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Well at least its not like they cannot get rid of this hindrance to abstain..Depression can be treated and help provided..Here s hoping such people can find adequate help.

  • Joanne


    February 9th, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    Group therapy is so helpful for so many people but I know that there are those who shy away from that mode because they are embarassed to share those feelings in front of others.
    So it has to be stressed to them that this can be so much more than simply beneficial to them, that it could make a huge impact in their live to think about this.

  • Vickie M

    Vickie M

    February 14th, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Thank you Brenna (and Kamilla) for this article – I can across it quite by accident and intrigued by the title, only discovering you had written it! This is such an important factor in treatment, and too easily overlooked or misdiagnosed

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