Drug and Alcohol

Self-Medicating and Addiction: What You Need to Know

Self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs increases your risk of developing an addiction. Get the professional treatment now!

Self-Medicating and Addiction: What You Need To Know

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

March 17, 2022

The Edge Treatment Center

Pain is an inevitable part of life.

Everyone experiences challenging physical, mental, and emotional pain from time to time. When uncomfortable experiences surface, many people have preferred coping methods. For some it might be video games, meditating, or sleeping. For others, it's drinking and using drugs

There are several reasons people drink and use drugs. Although many people think that the most common reason is to have a good time, most people turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication from distressing or uncomfortable circumstances. While using substances like cannabis or alcohol might take the pain away temporarily, there are serious dangers in relying on substances as a coping mechanism. 

The largest risk involved with self-medicating with substances is the likelihood of developing an addiction. Most people who engage in this behavior excuse it by thinking that they're only doing it “just this once” or “to get through right now," but habits like this can lead to dependence and eventually addiction.

Although drug use might seem like a quick and easy fix, the consequences of addiction outweigh the benefits of temporary relief. 

What Is Self-Medicating?

Self-medicating refers to the personal effort to ease or manage physical, emotional, or mental pain using some form of a coping technique. In this context, self-medicating refers to the use of alcohol or other drugs, although it can also define experiences such as overindulging on food. 

Alcohol and drug use is known to be a common coping mechanism, dating back nearly thousands of years. Current news, media, and pop culture continue to glorify the use of substances as an “outlet,” making the use of substances seem like an effective way to cure emotional distress. 

Using drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication can have a severe impact on both mental and physical health. Most people that turn to substances as a coping mechanism understand that it does not provide any real solutions to the root problem, especially long-term. Instead, self-medicating usually exacerbates or adds to the deeper issue.

Understanding Why People Self-Medicate

Although everyone experiences obstacles in life, some burdens seem too heavy to carry alone. When distress starts to interfere with daily functioning, it might be a sign that there is an underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed. Even when someone suspects that they need professional treatment, there are several reasons they might not be ready to see a therapist.

The social stigmas associated with mental illness and addiction continue to negatively impact people's willingness to receive help or to believe that they have an issue that requires professional help. Similarly, with how busy most people's lives are nowadays, people may be unwilling or unable to dedicate time in their schedule to look after their health issues. 

Other people may turn to substances to numb trauma responses or unpleasant memories. Still, others may want to self-medicate as a response to existential distress from the uncertainty of life. 

While every person uses substances for different reasons, each also has different reasons for self-medicating. Many people see self-medicating as a quick fix without typically understanding the dangers associated with even mild or occasional substance use.

Consequences of Self-Medicating

It is essential to understand the potential consequences of self-medicating through substances may come with. In understanding these consequences, people may become more motivated to find healthier coping mechanisms during times of distress or to get the professional addiction help that they need to recover from substance use disorder (SUD), mental illness, or trauma. 

Consequences of self-medicating include:

  • Incorrectly self-diagnosing, especially when it comes to misusing or abusing prescription medicines as a form of self-medication

  • Not receiving a medical evaluation and guidance, prolonging mental and emotional distress

  • Delaying working toward effective treatment and recovery with the help of professional advice

  • Chancing a severe reaction to a substance, such as anaphylaxis or overdose

  • Exacerbating mental health symptoms with the addition of substance use

  • Risk of lifelong addiction or dependency 

Warning Signs of Self-Medicating

By understanding the warning signs of self-medicating, people can bring better awareness to the risks involved with using substances as a coping mechanism. 

Potential warning signs that may surface in someone self-medicating with substances include:

  • Isolating from family, friends, and other loved ones

  • A sudden or unexpected change in peer groups or hobbies

  • They find themselves thinking or saying “I need a drink” or something similar when stressed, anxious, or uncomfortable

  • Looking forward to the weekend so they can decompress from a stressful week

  • Intense mood changes when they drink or use drugs

  • Intense withdrawal symptoms as they “come down” from a drug

  • Neglecting physical care or hygiene

  • Experiencing sudden financial issues, specifically from spending too much money on substances

  • Cognitive difficulties such as an inability to focus/perform tasks or a general worsening of mental health

  • Not being able to function socially without the use of substances

Self-Medicating Is Dangerous

Many people turn to substances because they believe drugs and alcohol provide a quick and effective "fix" for emotional distress, but this can only worsen or add to the underlying problem. There are many consequences involved with self-medicating, with the most problematic being an increased risk of developing an addiction.

It is crucial to understand the warning signs associated with self-medicating that may surface in you or a loved one so that you can bring awareness to the deeper issue. Start your recovery from self-medicating and addiction by calling The Edge Treatment Center today at (800) 778-1772.

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