Self-medicating is a behavior that has been practiced for decades. It’s actually gotten much worse with the invention of the Internet, which makes self-medicating very simple. For many people, self-medicating is as simple as doing a quick Internet search for a specific ailment. Once they have diagnosed themselves, they’ll turn to an over-the-counter remedy to help. However, for others, self-medicating takes on an entirely different look altogether.
What is Self-Medicating?
Where addiction is concerned, self-medicating refers to the practice of using substances to help with certain symptoms. Typically, these symptoms are self-diagnosed or self-recognized. Sometimes they are doctor-diagnosed, but not controlled well by medication. When either situation occurs, people naturally look to something that will provide them with relief. For a growing number of people, self-medication has become the norm, rather than the exception.
Why do People Self-Medicate?
There could actually be a number of reasons why self-medication is so attractive to people. These reasons include:
- Because it’s much more convenient to self-medicate than to go to a doctor.
- Because it takes less time.
- Because it can be cost-effective; especially for those without insurance.
- Because they may be afraid or even ashamed about their conditions.
- Because they believe medical care is not going to be good enough.
Sometimes people self-medicate because they’re just looking for a quick fix. Let’s use the example of a mental health condition like depression. It is common knowledge that antidepressants can take some time before they begin working. For someone who struggles with depression, using a stimulant drug might produce a quicker result. This is just one instance that makes self-medication so attractive to those who do it.
The Dangers of Self-Medication
Quite often, people will self-medicate as a way to avoid going to the hospital. What they don’t realize is that this puts them at a much greater risk for needing to go to the hospital. There are many dangers associated with self-medication. These include:
- The danger of experiencing a drug interaction.
- The danger of an overdose.
- The danger of wrongly diagnosing one’s self.
- The danger of masking a potentially serious disease.
- The danger of abuse, and eventually, addiction.
- The danger of legal problems resulting from using an illegal substance.
Anyone with a chronic medical or mental health condition should avoid self-diagnosing. Self-medication is never helpful in the long-term. It may provide short-term benefits, but in the end, it generally just makes the condition much worse.
What Drugs are Usually Used for Self-Medication?
People will frequently use different substances as a way to self-medicate. Some of the more common ones are listed below.
Although alcohol is a depressant, it can temporarily help with depression. Many people will use it to help with anxiety, as well. For example, someone who has social anxiety may have a few drinks to calm their nerves before a party. Eventually, as alcohol continues to be abused, it can lead to alcoholism. As alcoholism develops, symptoms of anxiety or depression are very likely to return.
Opiate drug use is very common in the United States. Many people who use opiate drugs also suffer from depression. Opiates will result in a sensation of euphoria. This can temporarily help to improve the symptoms of depression. However, using opiates heavily can result in worsening depression symptoms.
Cocaine is a life-threatening drug. It is illegal, and it is often used to combat the symptoms of depression. The euphoria that cocaine evokes can be quite attractive to some people. It can temporarily cause depression symptoms to subside. However, this is little more than a distraction. The cocaine high can quickly wear off, leaving the user even more depressed.
Amphetamines are frequently used as a way to improve issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They’re also used by those without a diagnosed condition. College students will frequently use amphetamines like Concerta and Strattera to stay awake and study. They may also use them to help improve their focus during class. Amphetamines are highly addictive, with or without a prescription. Using them can easily lead to addiction when they’re used long-term.
Marijuana is a drug that has been found to be somewhat effective at treating some types of depression. However, this is only in small doses. In larger doses, it can actually contribute to these symptoms. The fact that so many states have legalized cannabis means that there are higher rates of addiction.
Additional Ways of Self-Medicating
There are, of course, many other ways of self-medicating. Self-medication doesn’t always have to include illegal or illicit drugs. Other examples of self-medication include:
- Drinking a lot of coffee (caffeine)
- Self-medicating with food
- Sexual activity as a way to self-medicate
- Participating in excessive gambling
- Over the counter drugs
Does Self-Medicating Mean You Have a Co-Occurring Disorder?
Self-medicating doesn’t always mean you have a co-occurring disorder, but it could. Co-occurring disorders refer to mental health conditions that often occur alongside addictions. Most often, these conditions are present prior to the addiction, or substance abuse problem.
What Types of Co-Occurring Disorders Can Lead to Self-Medicating Behaviors?
There are many different types of co-occurring disorders that can easily lead to self-medication. These include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
People can actually suffer from any of these conditions for years without realizing it. Many of them do. They may recognize what their symptoms are, and choose various substances for self-medication purposes.
Self-medication statistics are actually quite alarming. One study in particular, which was featured on Psychology Today, explains why this is. The study looked at adverse childhood experiences and how they related to physical and mental health problems. The results found that:
- There is a direct correlation between trauma and addiction.
- The higher someone’s score was on this test, the more likely they were to end up an alcoholic or addict.
- Instances of alcoholism were increased by 500%.
- There was a 4,600% increase in IV drug use.
- People with mental health conditions are much more likely to self-medicate and form addictions.
Are You Self-Medicating a Mental Health Condition or Illness? Find Out Now
The information you’ve learned thus far might be alarming to you. At the very least, it’s making you take a look at your own, possibly self-medicating behaviors. Have you been self-medicating a co-occurring disorder? It’s important for you to find out. Taking a quiz can help. It also might be helpful for you to talk with a professional about your personal situation. If you find that you have been self-medicating a co-occurring disorder, all hope is not lost. You can get help to stop.
What to do if You’re Self-Medicating and in Need of Addiction Treatment
Many people self-medicate without realizing they’re doing it. This might be the situation you’re in right now. You may have known that you had a substance abuse problem. However, what you might not have known was that you were using drugs or alcohol to cover up another issue. So many people fall into this type of repetitive behavior pattern. If you’re self-medicating, you need to know why. You also need to get help for the addiction that occurred as a result. The best way to do that is to go to drug and alcohol rehab. During drug and alcohol treatment, any co-occurring disorders you may suffer from can be identified. Once they’re identified, they can be treated alongside the addiction. This is the best way to recover from both conditions. For a while, self-medication may have seemed like the best way for you to cope. Unfortunately, so many people feel the same way that you do. The fact is that self-medication is dangerous for you, and it could end up being deadly. Taking the appropriate steps now can help you stop this addictive behavior. It is possible for you to live your life without being dependent on drugs or alcohol. You just need to make the decision to get help.
EN.Wikipedia.org. (17, April 2017). Self-Medication. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-medication HuffingtonPost.com. (9, May 2013). Why We ‘Self-Medicate’ Our Own Depression or Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-tian-dayton/self-medication_b_3236724.html