Self-Medication Consequences: A Word of Caution About Acting as Your Own Physician

Have you been practicing self-medication in order to cope?

Do you think that it’s easier to reach for the can of beer or bottle of pills rather than really face your issues?

Self-medicating can have dangerous consequences including death.

Also, taking things into your own hands does not solve the real problem at all.

What is Self-Medication?

Self-medicating is when an individual uses substances such as drugs and alcohol for an emotional or psychological mental health problem.

You may have heard the phrase, “take the edge off,” when dealing with stress. People who use substances take this a thousand percent beyond that level by acting as their own physician through self-medicating.

Why Some Use Self-Medication

People self-medicate for several reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is that it is the most convenient and that it works, in the short-term.

If you have been struggling with anxiety or a past trauma you may have developed a self-medicating practice that helps “numb” the emotions. Often, it is much easier to reach for the bottle to get a drink or even obtain marijuana than having to go through the process of seeing a clinician.

Now, this does not mean that people who self-medicate do not want help.

Other reasons for self-medicating include:

  • History of alcohol or drug use personally
  • Family history of substance use or abuse
  • Learning from parents, siblings, or even peers that substances are an acceptable way of coping

Why Self-Medication Doesn’t Work

The reason why self-medicating is a short-term solution is because it only covers up the real problems that are going on, deep inside.

Of course, there are reasons why you may want to cover up these problems—they are scary, they are in dark places, and they are too painful. Yet, substance use does not work for the long haul. This is because you never really solve the problem (the anxiety, trauma, etc.). In actuality, you are making the problem much worse.

The Consequences of Self-Medication

The consequences of self-medication are quite dire. Long-term use of drugs and alcohol can change how your brain works, affect mood, and make it harder overall for you to cope adequately with mental health problems.

Additionally, you put yourself at risk for overdosing, which can cause death. People who use injectable drugs for self-medicating also put themselves in danger of developing HIV/AIDS.

Above all, when you self-medicate you are actually creating a vicious cycle that is hard to break free from.

For example, you may have memories from a traumatic event. Those memories create a stress reaction, heightening your levels of anxiety, sadness, even fear. To make those feelings go away, you drink alcohol until you “black out.” The short-term result is that you don’t have to feel that pain anymore. Yet, long-term you put your life at risk from excessive drinking.

After you wake up and become clear-headed, you will eventually relive those memories again. This, in turn, causes you to drink again, and the cycle continues. The real problem is never solved.

How to Address the Problem

There is a way to get better, to neither have to feel the hurt of those traumatic memories nor feel the need to use substances. It’s by seeking out professional help through a therapist that is trained in addiction counseling.

This is a multi-step process that involves:

  1. Being able to stay sober
  2. Once sober, starting to understand why you need to use
  3. Beginning the process of healing

It should be understood that this is not an easy process at all. Yet, what is the alternative? Self-medication only leads you to a vicious cycle that keeps taking you round and round in circles without any solution.

Struggling with a mental health issue and addiction is very difficult. It takes a heavy toll. However, through counseling, you can begin to truly heal and address your mental health issue.

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