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Are You Self Medicating?

self-medicating

Brandon knew he would see many family members from out-of-town at his grandmother’s funeral, which always causes added family stress due to tensions over who-knows-what anymore.

Adding that to his natural sadness over her death, and he just wanted to make it through the day. He stopped at the liquor store on the way to the church and bought some airplane-size shooters of vodka. If he really looked at his own behavior, he realized somewhat slowly, he would also acknowledge that the shots were taking the edge off the shakiness in his hands he noticed that morning.

His real problem he knew was the overwhelming stress he was feeling keeping an eye on his mom, who had early-stage dementia. His sister wasn’t any help because she was diagnosed as depressed and coping with a lot of financial stress. She couldn’t take time off like he could for regular check-ins on Mom.

And who was he supposed to talk to about his combination of depression and stress related to his mother’s diagnosis? Not his sister nor his mother. He was the one they relied upon and that was how the roles always were.

What if the relatives saw his shaky hands and could tell with one look he wasn’t doing as well as he led people to believe? He knocked back two in the car before heading into church, waited a minute and thought, why not one more? It was at the doors when he felt shame settle upon his shoulders for dishonoring his grandmother’s memory.

Anna put her head back on the pillow and pulled her knees up in a fetal position. She wanted to make it through the night without her “sleepy pills” as she referred to them. Not only was she taking more than prescribed, but not even for her initial need for which the medication was prescribed.

She had carpal tunnel surgery two years before the prescription regulation restrictions. She made it through surgery but easier than expected with just some over-the-counter pain relief.

She couldn’t be sure why, but she mentally noted the prescription was available for renewal up to a year–12 refills! The medication called for one pill every 12 hours; Anna took three before bed and headed off to work with a glass of orange juice and just one more. After all, she didn’t want to be sleepy at work, just not so agitated. As a nurse she made sure not to take any during her shift.

She started using them to take the edge off her stress in hopes they would make her sleepy. And they did at first. But now, it wreaked havoc on her sleep schedule, causing her to miss work and causing more anxiety. She also struggled with her non-existent appetite. It was a vicious cycle and taking quite a toll on her overall well-being.

What Is Self-Medication and it’s Associated Symptoms?

Self-medication happens when a person turns to prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol to cope with life situations that affect them mentally with hurtful, stressful, or emotional reactions.

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Self-Medicating Can Result In Substance Abuse Disorder

Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult situations and feelings is often the first step towards substance abuse. With time, self-medication and substance abuse can lead to drug addiction or alcoholism. Unfortunately, this abuse of drugs and alcohol doesn’t help in solving the original issues. 

Remember Brandon’s and Anna’s stress in the earlier examples? He struggled with anxiety and stress for caring for his mother and managing everyone’s needs and she works in a high-stress hospital environment. Neither one is seeking counseling for their mental states, but looking for quick fixes with substances either in liquid or pill form.

We haven’t even discussed how they could be able to manage stress and anxiety with coping skills gained in therapy. This would have been the healthier path to have chosen, but now we’re clogged up with the added issue of addiction.

Instead, addiction leads to more pain, more problems, and more difficulties in handling the issues that may have initially led a person to drink or get high. Addiction and self-medicating become a cycle, fueling guilt, shame, and further depression and anxieties.

Many times, addiction begins with self-medication. It’s important to understand what self-medicating means and treat underlying issues early on. Not only can doing so reduce the risks associated with addiction, but it could also save a life.

Self-Medication Vs. Addressing The Underlying Disorders or Causes

We’ve all heard the expression, “drowning your troubles.” It usually refers to drinking a few beers, a bottle of wine, whiskey, or any type of alcohol after a hard day, a breakup, a job loss, etc.

It’s safe to say that when something hurts us, we look for a solution to feel better. But when “drowning your troubles” becomes drowning your daily stresses, anger, and discomfort in alcohol or drugs, it’s a sign of self-medication.

Using substances every time you find yourself stressed about finances, sad about the loss of a loved one, angry with your boss, anxious about attending a social event, or even just bored is not a healthy lifestyle that can be happily maintained.

Initially, people find that drinking, pill-popping, shooting, or snorting can bring some relief. The drugs numb the pain; they make you let go of your worries and forget about the traumas. Earlier Brandon took a few drinks at his grandmother’s funeral service because of the added stress of having some family drama. Once the drink wears off, Brandon’s still where he was emotionally and no closer to learning a more natural way to handle his loss.

These temporary, quick fixes don’t last long, and when they wear off, things tend to be even worse.

Over the course of time, drug and alcohol use for self-medication will take a toll on your health, both physically and mentally. Using may mean you don’t sleep well, eat well, and catch more illnesses. Your mood and mental health deteriorate, too. You may find the things that angered or haunted you before using re-emerge after using. Those moods and emotions you were trying to numb, become stronger, longer, and more frequent.

Substance Abuse Occupies Your Thoughts

Now that you’ve not only turned to substances to ease your feelings and then started to notice your emotions haven’t been fixed, but you will also start to notice signs of addiction, like Anna was feeling earlier laying awake in her bed. How do you feel when you’re unable to drink or get high?

Do you panic if you’re unable to ease your social anxiety, anger, or depression with substances? Are you irritable if you can’t drink? Fixated on the next time you can pop a pill? Restless getting through the day without smoking or shooting away difficult emotions? All the above?

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol leaves many people obsessed with the next time they can ease the uncomfortable feelings.

Self-medicating Causes Mental Health Disorders and Life Disruption

So you originally began drinking or using to get away from your problems, pain, or personal stressors. However, your list of issues keeps growing. Ongoing drug and alcohol abuse have been known to create a lengthy list of problems, including:

  • Difficulties at work or school
  • Financial struggles
  • Relationship problems
  • Anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms
  • Physical health problems

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Self-medication Concerns Your Loved Ones, Family, And Friends

So you haven’t quite experienced some of the problems listed above, but the people you care about are worried about you, and the amount of alcohol you’re consuming or the drugs you’re using.

You may not be taking their concerns seriously, but it’s time that you hear them out. These people know you better than anyone, and if they’re worried it’s worth considering.

Take Charge Of Your Mental Health And Tackle Substance Abuse It Head-on

Because self-medicating for mental health issues is a slippery slope that can lead to dependence of drugs or alcohol, and addiction, it’s important to take steps now to get treatment.

Healthier alternatives include a dual-diagnosis treatment approach to the underlying causes of self-medication and substance use disorders, as well as manage the symptoms of mental health issues.

Practice recovery skills that are helpful with long-term success with tools and strategies learned through its wilderness treatment program. These are practiced alongside our clinically-proven behavioral therapeutic and medication-assisted approaches.

You, and the above examples of Brandon and Anna, are unique people. Unfortunately, the struggle with self-medication is all-to-common and we have a strength-based approach to our methodologies. You should not feel ashamed to get help, but empowered by the improved life you will gain with some assistance.

If you or someone you know is self-medicating, it’s worth a conversation with a specialist sooner, rather than later. Recovery is tough, but so are you. Reach out to Vertava Health of Texas at (877) 318-2084.

FAQs

Is Self-Medicating Bad?

If you have mental health struggles, it is recommended to get treatment from a trained medical professional. Your therapist can help identify the anxiousness, fear, sadness, or other symptoms, and get effective treatment to manage your symptoms.  Self-medication merely masks the problem for a time, can cause bigger issues with regards to physical and mental health and can be dangerous

Can You Self-Medicate Anxiety?

Alcohol or other substances may seem to temporarily alleviate your symptoms of anxiety, but this is a dangerous course. Those with anxiety disorders may find that alcohol or other substances can make their anxiety symptoms worse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Further, they are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population. That is due to the fact that anxiety disorder and substance use disorder can co-exist in a dual diagnosis, so it can be hard to determine which disorder existed “first.”

Family history, personality traits, ongoing stressful events, chronic physical pain, and other mental health situations can all be a source of anxiety. A medical professional is a good partner to help you overcome anxiety, not alcohol nor narcotics.

What Does It Mean to Self-Medicate For Mental Illness?

Self-medication happens when a person turns to prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol to deal with situations they find hurtful, stressful, or emotional. They are relying on simply themselves as the expert and not considering side effects and overall disruption to their mental state long-term.

What Are the Causes and Effects of Self-Medicating?

A desire to escape a certain mental state of mind is usually behind self-medicating. People associate the idea of being “high” as a direct correlation between how alcohol or a substance will impact their negative state of mind.

They view it as directly reversing the mood. This is both inaccurate and dangerous, not to mention never actually addresses the reason for the mental state to begin with. It can also cause more mental health impact and substance abuse disorders.

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