What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?

Depression affects about 16 million American adults every year and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is also frequently a co-occurring condition with substance abuse disorders. This especially true of men. Although women are about twice as likely as men to develop depression, men are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol rather than seek help. Symptoms of depression include depressed mood, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, fatigue, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, irritability, poor concentration, and thoughts of suicide of death. While everyone experiences sadness, disappointment, and grief, the chances that someone will have major depression at some point in his or her entire lifetime are only about one in five. That indicates depression is more than just negative experiences. Here are some factors that increase your risk of depression.


As with most things, genes play a big part in whether you develop depression. We currently understand only some of the physical factors involved with depression. These typically have to do with levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin and more recent research has focused on inflammation. These and other physical factors typically have a genetic basis. If you have a family history of depression, you are at greater risk. A family history of substance use may also indicate a greater risk as well, since depression and substance use often go together.

Substance use

As noted above, depression and substance use often go together. Each can cause the other and make the other worse. Often, depression comes first, leading to reckless behavior or self-medication, but people with substance use disorders can also develop depression out of a sense of shame or helplessness. Substance use can also change your brain chemistry and lead to rebound effects that actually make you feel worse. For example, if you self-medicate with alcohol, you may feel better in the short term, but your body compensates for the presence of alcohol by reducing levels of GABA and serotonin in your brain, which leaves you feeling tense, irritable, and depressed the next day.

People who quit using drugs and alcohol after a period of heavy use may also experience depression, sometimes called post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. This is typically an extended period of irritability, low mood, or emotional numbness caused by the sudden change in neurotransmitter levels. It typically goes away on its own but it may last between six and 18 months and make recovery more challenging.

Abuse or neglect

Children who are abused or neglected are at a higher risk of developing depression, sometimes while they’re still children or teenagers. This is thought to be connected with higher levels of anxiety and learned helplessness, the feeling that nothing they do will prevent them from being mistreated. Women in abusive relationships are also at higher risk of developing depression for similar reasons.


While trauma makes everyone feel bad, most people start to feel better after a few weeks. However, some people spiral downward into a depression that may last months. This is often true following the death of a loved one, especially if it’s unexpected. Sometimes trauma can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, the symptoms of which typically include irritability, pessimism, low mood, and feelings of guilt or shame, among others.

However, you don’t have to develop PTSD to become depressed following a trauma. Depression is more likely if you isolate yourself or try to suppress the natural process of grieving. Suffering several traumatic events may also lead to a cycle of recurring depression. For example, if you go through depression after a divorce in March, then go through another depression after getting laid off from your job in November, then a parent dies early the following year, it may trigger a cycle of depression that no longer requires a trauma for you to experience an episode.

Life stress

Life stress can often lead to a depressive episode. This is especially common after challenges like job loss or divorce that simultaneously affect one’s future and self-esteem. The longer someone remains unemployed, the more likely he will become depressed. One survey by Gallup found that depression tends to increase steadily the longer you remain unemployed and that that depression rates among unemployed people roughly double after a year, reaching nearly 20 percent.

However, positive events can also trigger depression. These might include buying a house or having a baby. About one in seven women experience postpartum depression after having a baby, and recent studies have found that men can experience postpartum depression too. New parents typically don’t get nearly enough sleep, suddenly have much more responsibility, and more financial obligations. New mothers, in particular, often experience dramatic hormonal changes during pregnancy and after childbirth and these hormonal swings an affect mood.

Chronic illness

Chronic illness is one of the few factors that has been shown to lower your happiness setpoint. A chronic illness may restrict your activity, forcing you to radically change your life. It may cause you to feel persistent pain and to have a generally bleak view of the future. Therefore, being diagnosed with a  chronic illness is often a trigger for depression. Some chronic illnesses may by physiologically linked to depression too. Research in recent years has liked depression to various conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and parkinson’s disease.

The good news is that depression can be treated. We’re learning more about the condition all the time, especially about how different forms of depression respond to different kinds of treatment. Treatment for depression typically involves psychotherapy and sometimes medication as well. For mild or moderate depression, psychotherapy and healthy lifestyle changes appear to work best, while various kinds of medication seem to be more effective for treating more severe forms of depression. A lot of evidence suggests lifestyle changes like healthy diet and regular exercise can prevent depression or reduce its severity.

Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.