Self-medicating refers to the use of a substance or medicine to treat self-recognized or self-diagnosed conditions and symptoms. Most commonly, self-medication occurs through the use of alcohol or other drugs to reduce distressing or otherwise unpleasant symptoms. Although the practice of self-medication may seem like an effective way to manage physical or psychological symptoms, substance use exacerbates symptoms long-term. It is crucial to understand the dangers involved with self-medicating so that if you or your loved one fall into unhealthy habits, you can seek support and treatment as soon as possible.
Why Do People Self-Medicate?
While the main reason that people self-medicate is to achieve relief or contentment from distressing symptoms, people may use substances for several reasons. First, substance use may be perceived as the fastest way to achieve physical or psychological relief from stress. Perhaps someone does not feel like they have time to go to counseling or therapy to manage their stress. Instead, they may find that using a substance like alcohol can produce a quick escape.
It is also important to consider the reputation that society has placed on alcohol, in particular. Alcohol use is legal for individuals over the age of 21 and, therefore, may often be perceived as an inherently safe or harmless substance. Despite its legal status, alcohol use, in any quantity, is dangerous. It can cause long-lasting physical and mental health consequences. Therefore, it is essential to emphasize that even using alcohol to self-medicate can be detrimental to an individual’s well-being.
Another reason people may use substances to self-medicate is that they do not know any other way to cope with their symptoms or condition. For example, some people grew up in homes where mental health was never discussed. Similarly, these individuals may have watched their parents cope with untreated mental health conditions through the use of alcohol and other drugs. Co-occurring conditions can make an individual increasingly susceptible to self-medicating with substances.
Risks of Self-Medicating
In general, there are no benefits from self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs. Instead, several health risks can result from self-medicating. Some of these risks include:
Delays In Seeking Treatment
By relying on alcohol and other substances to temporarily manage symptoms, an individual is delaying valuable medical and mental health treatment. It is vital to recognize that postponing treatment can also occur from the stigmas of drug use, experiencing addiction, and needing treatment. However, delaying treatment can worsen present mental health symptoms and lead to the development of a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD).
Severe Adverse Reactions
Substance use of any kind can risk severe adverse physical and mental reactions. Every type of drug can produce a range of varying effects, especially adverse side effects. For example, using psychedelic drugs to self-medicate can potentially result in severe paranoia, panic, and even psychosis. Similarly, using stimulant drugs to self-medicate may result in hallucinations, tremors, and heart failure.
Additionally, the regular use of alcohol and other drugs will lead to an increase in substance use tolerance. This means a person will have to consume a drug in larger quantities to achieve its desired effects. This inevitably increases the chance of overdosing on substances, which can result in extremely adverse reactions, including death.
Dangerous Drug Interactions
Significant health consequences may result from self-medicating with multiple substances or using recreational drugs in combination with prescription medications, such as antidepressants. Drug interactions can cause unexpected and dangerous side effects. Lower the risk of worsening health consequences by talking with a doctor about potentially dangerous drug interactions, especially when you are prescribed a new medication.
Risk of Dependency and Abuse
One of the most apparent concerns with self-medicating is that it can result in substance use disorders or chemical dependency. Addiction to substances causes significant changes in the brain that can predispose an individual to develop additional mental health problems and symptoms. Since addiction is a chronic and complex brain disorder that affects how an individual thinks, feels, and behaves, it can impair functioning in daily life. It is essential to avoid the regular use of alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, as it increases the risk of developing an addiction.
Treatment for Self-Medication
Once self-medicating starts, it can seem impossible to stop. It is essential to seek out treatment programs that specialize in treating co-occurring conditions so that they can help you overcome your mental health problems and substance use problems simultaneously.
Treatment for co-occurring conditions may involve a combination of psychotherapy and medication based on your individualized needs. Psychotherapy approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) can help clients become more aware of how their thought patterns affect their behavior, and vice versa, which can be beneficial in learning how to manage challenging thoughts.
Self-medicating is when an individual uses alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to manage their mental health symptoms. While it may seem like an effective way to achieve temporary relief from symptoms, self-medicating will only worsen mental health problems in the long run. It is essential to seek out treatment programs that specialize in treating co-occurring conditions so that you can experience relief from your mental health symptoms and substance-using habits simultaneously. SoCal Mental Health is a treatment center that treats all types of mental health conditions and substance use disorders, especially co-occurring conditions. We understand that substance use may seem like an easy escape; however, we do not want you to experience the consequences of substance use dependency. We offer specialized and individualized programs for all of our clients. To learn more about our programs and facility, call us today at (949) 502-2041.