Many of us are resorting to drugs and alcohol in these times of extreme anxiety and misery in an effort to alter how we feel. You could use food to improve your mood or get rid of boredom. You might light up a joint to unwind or have a few drinks to calm your nerves and eliminate any social anxiety before going out. Or perhaps you use sleeping aids like Xanax or Valium, ADHD treatments to help you stay focused during the day, or prescription opioids to dull any grief or stress you may be going through right now?
It’s referred to as “self-medicating” when you do this to control the symptoms of a mental health condition. Even if you are conscious that you have a mental health issue, you might not be aware of any healthier coping mechanisms. Or you might not have a diagnosis and only use alcohol or drugs to deal with a particular symptom or circumstance. For instance, as a result of the epidemic and the ensuing economic problems, many of us began treating our stress, anxiety, and despair by self-medication.
Self-medication could provide some short-term respite, but over time, it just makes your problems worse. Regular self-medication can result in addiction, a worsening of mood disorders, and an increase in health issues whether you use alcohol, illegal substances, prescription prescriptions, or over-the-counter foods and beverages (or even food or smokes). Your relationships at work, family, and school may all suffer as a result.
However, you do not lack power. You can find healthier and more successful ways to deal with your difficulties and enhance your general mood and well-being by having a better awareness of the reasons why and when you self-medicate.
Causes of Self-medication
Everybody experiences these emotions occasionally as a result of life’s difficulties and setbacks. However, it can be an indication that you require treatment for an underlying problem if you start to experience feelings of helplessness, fear, anger, despair or extreme stress that start to affect how you operate in daily life. However, it can be tempting to try to manage on your own in the easiest way possible, such as by reaching for a drink or a tablet rather than seeking assistance.
Many of us have sought to self-medicate our anxiety and uncertainty as the globe seems to lurch from one crisis to another during these times of intense financial and social upheaval.
Others use drugs or alcohol to deal with uncomfortable sensations or memories from the past, such as unresolved traumatic events. Others take drugs or alcohol to deal with frightening events or to maintain their focus throughout the day.
The means of self-medication might vary depending on the individual, just as the reasons for turning to drugs or alcohol for solace can.
Due to its accessibility, alcohol is frequently used as self-medication and is also the most frequently abused substance. Even though alcohol, beer, and wine are all depressants and will only exacerbate symptoms, they may be used to treat stress, sadness, and anxiety on one’s own.
There is also a large supply of prescription medicines, such as narcotic painkillers, ADHD drugs, and anti-anxiety drugs. They can be used for everything from pain relief or relaxation to boosting concentration and vigor.
To cope with uncomfortable feelings, circumstances, and memories, people utilize recreational drugs like marijuana or cannabis or stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Their use might result in addiction and drug abuse.
Emotional eaters may turn to food as a way to self-medicate unpleasant emotions or to cope with stress, anxiety, or sadness. Most individuals seek foods that are heavy in sugar, calories, and unhealthy fats so that emotional eating can have a negative impact on both your mood and your waistline.
While the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products can help some people concentrate, it also tends to exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD over time and can make quitting smoking more difficult.
Symptoms of Self-medication
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether you’re self-medicating. After all, many cultures consider consuming alcohol to be socially acceptable, most bathrooms contain prescription pharmaceuticals, and even recreational drugs like marijuana are now widely available or legal in many areas.
It’s important to consider your reasons for drinking or using drugs—as well as the effects it’s having on your life—in order to determine if you’re self-medicating. For instance, are you taking a painkiller because your back hurts or because you want to feel better after a difficult day at work? Do you drink to socialize with friends, to complement a meal, to lift your mood, or to make you feel less anxious?
Self-medication Warning Signs:
When you’re anxious, stressed out, or sad, you turn to booze or drugs. Many of us have turned to drugs or alcohol to deal with occasionally unpleasant news, like losing a job or ending a relationship. But there’s a good chance you’re self-medicating if you habitually drink or use drugs to deal with stress, get through boredom, feel better, or prepare for social engagements, for instance.
Alcohol and drugs worsen your symptoms. Alcohol and drugs are typically quick cures. You’ll probably feel even worse as the numbing effects wear off. Self-medication can impair your sleep quality, sap your vitality, weaken your immune system, and increase your susceptibility to sickness. As you become stuck in a downward cycle of worsening mood and greater substance usage, your mood and emotional health will also suffer.
To get relief, self-medication becomes increasingly necessary. The number of drinks necessary to reduce anxiety or unwind at the end of the day has increased from one or two to three, four, or even more. A higher tolerance entails needing more alcohol or drugs to have the same effects. Your tolerance will continue to rise as you self-medicate, as will the issues brought on by your growing drug usage. Only by discovering more healthy ways to handle your issues will you be able to break the pattern.
Your issues are becoming worse. For instance, you started drinking to deal with stress, but now you also have to deal with health, relationship, and financial issues. Additionally, the tension is worse. The more self-medication you engage in, the more issues it brings about in your life.
When you can’t get access to drink or drugs, you start to worry. Do you worry about how you’ll act in a social setting without alcohol? When your medication runs out, do you start to feel anxious? Do you become impatient while you wait for your next paycheck so you can buy more alcohol or call your dealer? The more uneasy you feel about the idea of being without your preferred substance, the more likely it is that you are self-medicating.
Your family and friends are concerned about your drug use. Have others close to you voiced their concern that you appear to be consuming more alcohol than usual? Or maybe they’ve noticed changes in your demeanor, actions, or social life. Both you and those close to you can suffer from substance abuse. It’s simple to brush off others’ worries or act as though everything is fine. However, it takes a lot of courage to acknowledge when your substance use has developed into a problem and to pay attention to your loved ones’ worries.
In addition to the possibility of developing an addiction to your drug of choice, trying to self-medicate a mental health issue can lead to a host of other issues. Self-medication also includes
Aggravate the symptoms. Self-medication for mental health problems might make them worse or even cause new symptoms.
Interplay with prescription drugs Abusing alcohol or other substances can interact with any other medications you’re taking, reducing their effectiveness or producing unfavorable side effects.
Cause brand-new issues with mental health. Drinking excessively or abusing drugs while predisposed to a mental health disease increases your likelihood of developing new issues beyond those that first drove you to self-medicate. For instance, using opioids and alcohol can cause depression, while using marijuana and methamphetamine can cause psychosis.
Hinder or delay your search for assistance. It can be challenging to veer off your self-medication track and look for healthier, more productive ways to solve your problems. You can, however, proceed to deal with the problems once and for all once you realize how your substance usage is actually exacerbating rather than resolving them.
Tip 1: Recognize your self-medication habits
You need to first recognize when and how you’re self-medicating in order to find better and more productive ways of handling your issues and managing your emotions. That entails being sincere with both those who are close to you and who have your best interests in mind.
It’s common to try to justify your substance usage, grossly downplay how much or how frequently you use or outright deny that you have a problem, whether you’re drinking or using drugs (or both). You might try to place all the blame for, say, your marital problems or your financial issues on external factors.
Anyone may experience worry, anxiety, or depression as a result of the pandemic, the economic crisis, and rising unemployment. However, it’s also crucial to recognize that the time and money you spend drinking or using drugs may also be a factor in your issues.
Denial can manifest in mental health problems as well. If you’re suffering to manage symptoms of depression or anxiety, for instance, you might feel embarrassed to admit it. While it might be simpler to ignore your issues and wish them away, the first step to recovery is getting a past denial.
Admitting that you have a mental health issue is not a sign of frailty or a flaw in your character. Whatever your issues, there are practical solutions that will help you manage them and regain control over your life.
Keep track of your drug use and emotional state. Make a note of when you use alcohol or drugs, how much you use, and your initial feelings when you start—for instance, if you’re stressed, anxious, unhappy, or bored. Do this for a few weeks. You should be able to recognize trends and mood triggers in your substance use behaviors after reviewing the data.
Try to refrain from using on a few days per week. Do you ever manage to abstain from booze or drugs occasionally? When you don’t use it, how do you feel these days? Do you feel less or more agitated, anxious, or depressed? How much sleep do you get? Can you pass the time by coming up with healthier and more efficient strategies to control your mood?
Tip 2: Modify your worldview
It’s likely that you see your substance usage in ways that make it appear more beneficial than it actually is if you self-medicate your emotions and moods. For instance, you might indulge in a nightcap of wine, like many people do, to put you to sleep. However, drinking will disturb your sleep even though it may make it easier for you to fall asleep.
It may require more trips to the bathroom, exacerbate respiratory issues, prevent you from getting enough restful REM sleep, and wake you up sooner than usual. All of this contributes to a restless night’s sleep. Even while it could take you longer to fall asleep if you forgo the nightcap, you’ll sleep better and feel better rested when you wake up.
Alcohol can also be used as a coping method for nervousness or to lift your spirits. Alcohol is a depressant, so while a few drinks may have the desired effect—making you feel happy or less anxious—it will ultimately make you more anxious and depressed. Regular alcohol consumption depresses the central nervous system and lowers serotonin levels in the brain, making you feel depressed and more prone to worry.
It might be challenging to let go of the misconceptions and false beliefs you’ve formed in your head, even when you see how your self-medication is merely momentarily hiding your troubles rather than providing any beneficial function. But the more you question your self-medication-related ideas, the less control they’ll have over your behavior. You can achieve this by switching out your substance use for healthier, more productive ways to deal with your difficulties.
Tip 3: Look for healthy means of coping
It’s simple to slip into the mentality that you have no control over your mental health issues. Nevertheless, there are always actions you can do, with or without expert aid, to improve your symptoms and change how you feel. For instance, most people who are depressed, anxious, or stressed respond effectively to self-help techniques like:
Seeking out social assistance. Nothing calms your nervous system more than having a face-to-face conversation with a friend or loved one. You can discover ways to frequently connect with family and friends, even during periods of social withdrawal, to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your mood.
Increasing your workout. Exercise causes the brain to undergo significant changes that can improve mood, relieve stress, and foster emotions of serenity and well-being. Exercise can also work as a helpful diversion, allowing you to break free from the vicious loop of unfavorable ideas that frequently underlie mood problems.
Establishing a relaxing routine. Using a relaxation technique, such as yoga, deep breathing, or meditation, can reduce tension and make you feel more at ease and upbeat all day long.
Enhancing your rest. Sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety, despair, and stress, just as mood disorders and substance use can make it more difficult to achieve a restful night’s sleep. But you may break the cycle and get better nighttime sleep by maintaining a clean lifestyle and forming new morning and evening routines.
Eating a more wholesome diet. Your mood can be significantly affected by the food you eat. Increasing your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, cutting back on sugar and junk food, and improving your outlook on life can all help you feel better and have more energy.
When you’re depressed, it may seem that there is no end in sight and that life is bleak and useless. But there are numerous things you can do to improve and maintain your mood, from resisting negative thoughts to taking time to enjoy the outdoors and planning enjoyable activities for the day.
Instead of being a single illness, anxiety refers to a collection of connected diseases. Some people experience sudden, severe panic episodes, while others may experience unreasonable fears, intrusive thoughts, or uncontrollable worry.
Still, others may experience trembling while thinking about mixing at a party. One of the most prevalent mental health conditions is an anxiety disorder, which is also very treatable. For instance, worrying is a mental habit that you may learn to overcome.
It could appear like there is nothing you can do to relieve tension. There are always more bills to pay, not enough hours in the day, and never-ending obligations to your job and family. Even if your stress tends to come on unexpectedly or at predictable periods, there are still a lot of things you can do to manage it.
Tip 4: Use Multiple therapies
A dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder occurs when self-medicating a mental health issue has also resulted in a substance misuse problem (addiction or dependency). You must concurrently address your substance abuse problems and the mental health condition that initially led to your drug or alcohol usage if you want to receive treatment for a co-occurring disorder.
Detoxification, managing withdrawal, counseling, and/or attending peer support groups may all be part of your treatment for substance misuse. Some people can attain and maintain sobriety on their own with the help of friends and loved ones, depending on the severity of the substance addiction problem, while others require professional assistance.
A mix of self-help techniques, healthy lifestyle adjustments, individual or group therapy, and medication may be used to treat your mental health issue.
How to Assist a Self-medicating Person
Supporting a loved one who self-medicates can be challenging. To deal with both the underlying ailment and the troubles brought on by their drinking or drug usage, you must get over any denial they may have about their problems or substance use and assist them in understanding why they are self-medicating.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that you cannot handle your loved one’s difficult challenges on their behalf. Just like you cannot force someone to maintain their sobriety, you cannot compel them to deal with their mental health issue. However, you can provide encouragement and support to your loved ones by telling them to get help.
Talk to the individual. Talk to your loved one about the negative traits and issues you’ve observed while you’re both sober and composed. By listening to them without passing judgment or leveling accusations, you can help them open up to you.
Find out as much as you can about the person’s underlying mental health condition and the self-medication they are engaging in. The better able you are to support your loved one’s recovery, the more you will comprehend what they are through.
Instruct your loved one to seek assistance. Encourage them to see a doctor for a general checkup and maybe offer to accompany them on the initial visit. It may be possible for them to more clearly understand their issues if they discuss the causes of their self-medication with a specialist.
Don’t use drugs, alcohol, or dispute over a loved one’s substance usage while they are impaired. Instead, fill your time together with enjoyable, healthy pursuits and pastimes that don’t include alcohol or drugs.
Encourage engagement with others. It may be tempting for someone who is depressed, nervous, or dealing with another mental health issue to withdraw inside themselves. But for them to recover, they need assistance from friends and family and social interaction.
Establish limits. Be honest with yourself about how much time and attention you can devote to your loved one without becoming overburdened. Establish boundaries for disruptive behavior and uphold them. It’s not good for either of you if you let a friend’s or loved one’s difficulties control your life.
Be tolerant. It takes time for someone to recover from depression, anxiety, or any other ailment that led them to self-medicate. Relapse is frequent in the recovery process. Be kind, supportive, and patient.
Obtain your own assistance. It’s simple to become demoralized by the struggles of a loved one. Discuss your situation with someone you can trust. Getting your own treatment or joining a group for persons with similar problems may even be helpful.
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