What Does Self-Medicating Have to Do With Addiction?

There are many reasons why people use drugs. Some use them to ease curiosity or social pressures. Others use them to self-medicate. Recreational drug use, regardless of the reason, poses risks. Self-medicating practices bring about challenges throughout treatment and recovery, though.

It is essential to understand what self-medicating is and what it has to do with addiction. This will help people recognize when these practices surface in themselves or other loved ones. Moreover, it will help individuals to know when professional intervention is necessary to cease substance abuse and heal.

What Are Self-Medicating Practices?

Hardships—and the stress that often accompanies them—are an inevitable part of life. In times of stress, individuals will turn to their preferred coping method to de-stress. Unfortunately, many will turn to alcohol and other drugs to handle their emotions. When a person uses alcohol or other drugs in an attempt to treat, relieve, or manage difficult symptoms, it is known as self-medicating.

Drug Use, Misuse, and Abuse

Some people may not be aware that they are engaging in self-medicating practices. For example, consider someone with chronic pain. Their doctor prescribed pain medication for them to take as needed, with a maximum of two daily doses. This individual may start by taking their medication only when their pain is severe, such as once every other day. Then, they may increase their use to two doses a day after a while. Eventually, as tolerance builds, they may see no harm in taking an extra third dose so often. Then, they may double the number of pills each time they take it.

These are examples of how drug use can quickly develop into drug misuse. Drug misuse also includes the following:

  • Taking more than what was prescribed
  • Using someone else’s prescription
  • Skipping doses or taking them inconsistently
  • Taking the drug for a reason other than what was prescribed

Although many doctors will warn their clients about prescription misuse, many individuals still cannot identify misuse when it surfaces. For example, when an individual takes a prescription or other drug with the intent to get high, it is considered drug abuse.

It is important to note that taking medication as prescribed is not considered self-medicating, as the medication was prescribed by a healthcare professional. However, taking old prescriptions, alcohol, or other illicit drugs to treat personal symptoms is considered a self-medicating practice. Likewise, taking prescription medications can increase one’s risk of developing an addiction due to the addictive potential of certain drugs.

Why Do People Self-Medicate?

People may self-medicate for a variety of reasons. First, they may think it is a safe and effective way to cope with physical or mental health distress. Often, individuals do not understand the dangers of prescription drugs, especially when prescribed by a healthcare professional. Some doctors neglect to discuss the risks. As a result, individuals may self-medicate without understanding the potential dangers of doing so.

On the other hand, many people who self-medicate know that they are doing it. They may see the damage. However, they struggle to find a healthier way to cope. They may have tried other coping mechanisms in the past but not found them to be as effective as alcohol and other drug use.

Another reason why people self-medicate is to feel pleasure in a world that may seem chaotic or dull. They may feel burned out and anhedonic. In these cases, substances may be the only thing to give them any positive feelings. But, unfortunately, the pleasure comes at a high cost.

Lastly, some people who self-medicate have undiagnosed mental health disorders and do not know they are engaging in self-medicating behaviors. They may not realize that they’re taking a medication they shouldn’t. Additionally, they could know they’re taking something but not discern why. Their mind could unconsciously lead them down the path of addiction.

The Dangers of Self-Medicating Practices

Despite the temporary relief one may experience from self-medicating practices, these practices are dangerous. It is vital to recognize that self-medicating can exacerbate already present symptoms. Once the effects of alcohol or other drugs wear off, an individual is still left with distressing emotions, in addition to the potential withdrawal effects of substance abuse.

One of the most notable dangers of self-medicating practices is the potential to develop dependency and addiction. With repeated self-medication, an individual’s body will adapt to the effects of these substances. Eventually, an individual may rely on the effects of substance use to feel normal. They may be incapable of functioning normally throughout daily life. Increased use builds tolerance and worsens withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, this puts an individual in the perpetuating cycle of substance abuse.

The development of addiction does not only occur through the chronic use of alcohol and other drugs. Even moderate substance use can contribute to the development of addiction. The human body is not equipped to process these substances healthily. Likewise, the effects of substance abuse are often long-lasting, impairing brain structure and functioning so severely that professional treatment is required to recover from them.

Recovering from Self-Medicating Practices

No matter the reason for self-medicating, it is essential to understand that treatment and recovery are possible. Medical detox is often the first step in the pre-treatment process. From there, treatment will involve participation in both individual and group therapy interventions. In some cases, medication will be provided to help with initial withdrawal symptoms and to reduce the symptoms of any co-occurring mental health disorders.

Understand that effective and healthy coping mechanisms are available to help individuals manage the effects of substance abuse, addiction, and other mental health disorders. Self-medicating practices can be put in the past with the help of professional treatment.

Self-medicating is the use of alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to self-medicate distressing emotions and symptoms. Although substance use may provide temporary relief, it will only exacerbate mental health problems in the long run. It is important to understand that self-medicating practices can quickly contribute to the development of addiction. Professional treatment is usually required to heal from addiction and its effects. 12 South Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment facility that recognizes the challenges of self-medicating during treatment and recovery. We are dedicated to helping clients heal from underlying traumas and other psychological problems to establish lasting sobriety and recovery. To learn more, call us today at 866-839-6876.

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