We’re not talking about taking Tylenol for a headache.
Self-medicating is when an individual attempts to cope with continuous emotional or physical pain through substance abuse, either prescription or non-prescription, without the supervision of a licensed professional. This medication can also include recreational drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately, pain is an issue that is becoming more prevalent, and self-medicating is taking its toll on the population.
Self-Medicating Anxiety Disorders
While occasional anxiety is common, a prolonged period of anxiety that last months or even years is actually a mood disorder that affects individuals from all backgrounds. Anxiety is the presence of excessive worrying that can be accompanied by irritability and other symptoms.
Some of the common indicators of an anxiety disorder include:
- Trouble controlling their nervousness
- Hard time falling or staying asleep
- Feeling tired all the time
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent bathroom visits
- Muscle aches or unexplained pain
- Feeling restless
An anxiety disorder is not to be taken lightly. It is a mental health issue many people struggle with every day. In extreme cases, it can inhibit individuals from obtaining work or leaving their homes, preventing them from living fulfilling lives.
Self-Medicating for Depression
Depression is another mood disorder that affects millions of Americans each year. It is a mental illness that can produce persistent symptoms. Depression is comprised of genetic, psychological, and neurobiological factors. Unfortunately, it is a silent predator, but its effects are deafening.
Usually, an individual struggling with depression will have a low sense of self-worth and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. Depression can also cause the individual to have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.
Because of the pain experienced with these disorders, people self-medicate to suppress the associated feelings. However, the effects are more harmful than the anticipated results. Some drink alcohol to forget an experience or to liven up a gathering. Others use opioids or marijuana to calm their emotional distress. Whatever the drug of choice, using these substances is an unhealthy coping mechanism.
The Costs of Self-Medicating
If a person is struggling with anxiety or depression, self-medicating is not the answer. Unfortunately, too many people do self-medicate, and the consequences are devastating.
According to the results of a survey of just over 8,000 people by the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) and National Epidemiologic Study of Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC):
- 14% of people dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) said they self-medicated with alcohol.
- 23% of people who have a panic disorder admitted to self-medicating with drugs.
- 7% with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) said they use both drugs and alcohol.
One of the many long-term effects of self-medicating is developing a substance use disorder (SUD). Thirty-five million people are estimated to suffer from SUD, which affects brain composition and functioning and requires professional mental health support to recover from.
The earlier an individual can stop self-medicating, the better the outcome.
Self-medicating poses many potential significant risks. Depending on which drug is used, the substance can negatively interfere with an individual’s prescription medication, the side effects of which can range from mild to severe. Self-medicating can also cause increased psychiatric problems, suicidal behavior, and an adverse effect on familial and social relationships. Genetic susceptibility or childhood trauma can increase the likelihood of this occurring. Physical health issues, overdose, and premature death are all possible to occur from self-medicating as well.
Anxiety and depression symptoms may become aggravated if not treated soon enough. Physical health can also begin to decline. Work is usually disrupted due to a lack of concentration. Not only is an individual’s immediate circle affected, but society is also. While employers suffer from a lack of production, businesses struggle.
Economic difficulties can adversely affect families, and the vicious cycle continues. While many believe their actions only concern them as an individual, they actually have widespread consequences.
How Do You Know if You’re Self-Medicating?
If you regularly turn to substances to alleviate pain or elevate your mood, you are most likely self-medicating. Look out for these signs to know if you need to seek help:
- Your substance use is causing more problems than it alleviates
- Your family and friends are concerned about your substance use
- You are drinking more or taking more drugs to feel a sense of relief
It’s essential to understand that self-medicating only provides temporary relief, and the consequences can be long-term.
A Way Out from Self-Medication
If you are currently using drugs or alcohol for relief from anxiety or depression, it’s important to understand there are healthier ways to alleviate the feelings associated with these disorders.
One thing you can do is talk to a licensed professional regarding your mental health concerns. Medication may be prescribed if the clinician believes it will help. Alternative medications that are non-habit forming can be prescribed, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and beta-blockers. A suitable treatment plan can be developed and tailored to your needs.
Of course, such medications should only be taken as directed. Before taking other drugs in conjunction with such medication, it’s crucial to get advice from your doctor.
Self-medicating is never the answer, and there is help available to adequately address your individual mental health needs. Life has its many trials and dealing with anxiety and/or depression can make it even more taxing. However, it’s imperative that you let a mental health professional help you manage the symptoms of these disorders.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
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