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Depressed Women More Likely to Do Crack

By Dirk Hanson 07/15/11

Study of female crack addicts in drug court yields surprising clues about who'll be using four months later.

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Mood disorders amp up addiction.
Photo via hubpages

A new study by scientists at Brown University claims that women who appeared in drug court while suffering from major depression are almost twice as likely to be doing crack again four months later, compared to other women in drug court. Curiously, the same findings do not hold true for women who have undergone past episodes of depression. If you've undergone a major depressive episode in the past, you're not at a greater risk of relapse. “We found that current major depression increased the risk of crack use, but depression in the past year that had gotten better did not,” said assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior Jennifer Johnson, lead author of the Brown University study published in Addiction. What this suggests for treatment is that “screening for depression and effective depression treatment may be important components of drug court services,” Johnson said.

Scientist have long believed that addiction and depression are often related. When both conditions are found in the same patient, a situation known as comorbidity, treatment outcomes are significantly worse than for patients without major depression. The study concentrated solely on women, a relative rarity in addiction studies. Of the 261 women in the study, 16% said they were currently undergoing an episode of depression, while 40 admitted to a prior depressive episode. Among women who were currently depressed, a whopping 46% used crack during the following four months. Only 25% of non-depressed women were using crack at the four-month mark.

So which comes first, the chicken of cocaine, or the egg of depression? Johnson says it's well known that “crack use can cause depression and depression can contribute to crack use,” and since depression in the study was associated with future crack use, not baseline use, Johnson believes that “depression may have led to crack use and not vice versa.” If the study holds up, it provides still more evidence that depression is more likely to be a cause of drug and alcohol abuse, rather than its inevitable result.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]

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