To change your mood, face your anxieties, or deal with uncomfortable emotions, do you drink or use drugs? There are healthier ways to deal with challenges and boost your mood than self-medication.
What does it mean to self-medicate?
Many of us are prefer turning to substances to try to change how we feel in these times of immense anxiety and distress. However, certain foods can also improve your mood or relieve boredom.
To calm your anxieties and alleviate any social anxiety, you may smoke a joint or drink or two before going out. Maybe you take Xanax or Valium to help you sleep, ADHD drugs to help you focus during the day, or prescription painkillers to ease any grief or stress you are going through right now?
It is referred to as “self-medicating” when you use alcohol or drugs to treat symptoms of a mental health problem. You might be aware that you have a mental health issue but have no idea how to deal with it more healthily. Alternatively, your ailment could be undiagnosed, and you are merely coping with a symptom or condition with alcohol or drugs. As our lives have altered dramatically due to the pandemic and the resulting economic challenges, many of us began self-medicating stress, worry, sorrows, and depressions.
While self-medicating may provide temporary relief, it only serves to aggravate your difficulties over time. Regular self-medication, whether with alcohol, illegal substances, or prescription medicines (or even food or cigarettes), can lead to addiction, worsening food disorders, and increased health issues. It can also have a negative impact on your relationships at home, school, and work.
However, you are not helpless. You can find healthier and more successful ways of coping with your challenges and enhancing your general mood and well-being by better understanding why and when you self-medicate.
Why People opt for Self-Medication?
In response to life’s challenges and failures, we all feel sad, concerned, and out of balance from time to time. When feelings of hopelessness, fear, anger, despair, or overwhelming stress begin to interfere with your everyday functioning, it may be an indication that you require treatment for an underlying issue. Unfortunately, instead of getting help, it can be tempting to try to deal in the most basic way possible: by grabbing a drink or taking medication.
Many of us have sought to self-medicate our anxiety and uncertainty as the globe seems to stumble from one disaster to the next in these times of tremendous financial and social crisis.
Others use drugs or alcohol to cope with negative memories or sensations from the past, such as unresolved traumatic experiences. Others use alcohol or drugs to cope with frightening circumstances or to stay focused on everyday activities.
The reasons for seeking relief in drugs or alcohol differ from person to person, as do the methods of self-medicating.
Kinds of Self-Medication
Because alcohol is so readily available, it is the most prevalent way of self-medication and the most generally abused substance. It can be used to self-medicate stress, sadness, and anxiety, despite the fact that beer, wine, and liquor are all depressants and can only worsen symptoms.
Prescription medications are also commonly available, including opioid pain relievers, ADHD medicine, and anti-anxiety medications. They can be used for everything from numbing pain to improving attention and energy.
To cope with unpleasant feelings, experiences, and memories, people utilize recreational drugs like marijuana, cannabis, or stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Unfortunately, their use can lead to drug addiction and violence.
Emotional eaters can use food to self-medicate unpleasant feelings and cope with stress, depression, and anxiety. However, emotional eating may damage your waistline and mood because most individuals seek foods high in sugar, calories, and excessive fat.
Nicotine present in cigarettes and other tobacco products can help some individuals focus, but it can also worsen ADHD symptoms and make quitting smoking even more difficult.
Self-medicating Warning Signs
When you are self-medicating, it is not always easy to spot. Alcohol intake, as means of self-medication, is a socially acceptable feature of many cultures; prescription medicines are readily available in the cabinets of most bathrooms, and recreational drugs like marijuana are now legal now and easily accessible in many areas. To figure out if you are self-medicating, consider your reasons for drinking or using drugs, as well as the influence they are having on your life. For example, are you taking a pain reliever because your back hurts or because you have had a long day at work and want to feel better?
Are you drinking to socialize with friends or complement a meal, or are you trying to lift your spirits or feel less anxious?
The following are signs that you may be self-medicating:
When you are anxious, upset, or depressed, you turn to drink or drugs. Many of us have used drugs or alcohol to cope with unpleasant news, such as losing a job or breaking a relationship.
However, if you are drinking or using drugs on a regular basis to deal with stress, boredom, improve your mood, or prepare for a social engagement, you are probably self-medicating.
Sometimes the drugs and alcohol can even make the situation even worse. Alcohol and drugs only tend to resolve the issue temporarily. As soon as the numbing effects worn off, you are more likely to feel even worse. Self-medication can affect your sleep, lower your energy levels, adversely affect your immune system, making you more prone to sickness.
To gain relief, you may require self-medicating again and again. Previously, if you only needed one or two drinks to ease your anxiety or de-stress at the end of the day, now you may need three, four, or even more than that. Increased tolerance means you require more drugs or alcohols to get the same effects. With the continual use of self-medication, you will experience an increase in your patience – along with the issues caused due to the rise in drug usage. The only way to break this cycle is to go for healthier means to deal with such problems.
In the beginning, you just started to drink to cope with the anxiety, but now you are facing relationship, health, and financial issues to cope with too. You feel your problems to be multiplying. In short, the more you opt for self-medication, the more problems it keeps on adding to your life.
You are stressed when drugs or alcohols are not accessible for you. Are you stressed about coping with a social situation where alcohol will not be available? Do you feel anxious when your prescription medicines are finished? Do you feel uneasy and restless while waiting for the payday anxiously so that you have enough money to call your supplier or restock your cabinets with drinks? The more discomfort you feel at the thought of getting separated from the drug of your choice, the greater are the chances that you are self-medicating.
Are your friends and loved ones are worried about your drug usage? Have you closed relations expressed their concerns that you are getting addicted to drinking more than usual? Or probably they have noticed significant changes in your overall attitude, personality, or social life? Drug abuse can equally affect others around you as much as it may affect you. It might be easier to dismiss others’ concerns and pretend everything to be ok and normal. However, it takes much strength and courage to listen to your close ones and identify when the use of drugs has become problematic.
How to Recognize if You are Facing a Drug Abuse Issue?
While self-medicating to deal with an emotional or mental health issue, it becomes easier to step into abusing drugs or alcohols.
Drug abuse issues are neither defined by what kind of drug you are using or drinking nor when or how much you are using. Instead, the effects of drug use define an issue.
What Dangers Self-Medication Offer?
While trying to self-medicate, a mental health problem can develop heaps of issues beyond the risk of turning an addict to the drug of your choice. Self-medication can:
Make the symptoms much worse. Attempting to self-medicate a mental health problem might intensify symptoms or possibly cause new ones.
Prescription drugs may interact with one another. Abusing alcohol or drugs can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of any prescriptions you are taking, as well as cause unpleasant side effects.
New mental health issues can be triggered because of this. If you are already at risk for a mental health problem, alcohol consumption or abusing drugs could lead to the emergence of additional issues unrelated to the ones that led to your self-medication. Opioid and alcohol abuse, for example, have been associated with depression, while marijuana and methamphetamine abuse have been associated with psychosis.
Delaying or preventing you from seeking assistance. It can be challenging to change your mind and explore healthier, more effective ways to deal with your difficulties once you have committed to self-medicating. However, if you identify how your substance abuse is intensifying rather than resolving your problems, you may begin to address them once and for all.
1st self-help tip: Recognize your self-medication patterns.
It would be best to recognize when and how you are self-medicating to find healthier and more effective ways of coping with your difficulties and controlling your emotions. That involves being truthful to yourself and those closest to you who care about your well-being.
It is common to try to excuse your substance usage, underestimate how much or how often you use or deny that you have a problem at all, whether you are drinking or using drugs (or both). You can try to blame external factors for your marital issues or money difficulties, for example.
Anyone can get depressed, anxious, or stressed due to the epidemic, the economic recession, and rising unemployment. However, it is also critical to recognize how the amount of time and money you spend drinking or using drugs may be contributing to your difficulties.
Denial can also arise because of mental health problems. You could be embarrassed to acknowledge that you are having trouble coping with sadness or anxiety, for example. While it may appear to be easier to ignore your problems and hope they go away, denial is the first step toward rehabilitation.
Admitting that you have a mental health issue is not a sign of weakness or a flaw in your character. Whatever challenges you are dealing with, there are efficient ways to deal with them and reclaim control of your life.
Keep track of your drug and alcohol use as well as your moods. Keep a note of when you use alcohol or drugs, how much you use, and how you feel when you first start—stressed, nervous, unhappy, or bored, for example—for several weeks. You should be able to discover similarities and mood triggers in your substance use behaviours after reviewing the results.
For a few days each week, avoid using them. Are you able to stay away from drugs and alcohol for some days? Keep a note of how you are feeling during those days—do you feel less stressed, anxious, or depressed when you avoid their usage? Are you able to sleep properly? Is it possible to pass the time by finding healthier and more effective ways to manage your emotions?
Tip #2: Changing your beliefs
If you self-medicate your emotions and moods, you probably see your substance usage in ways that make it appear more beneficial than it is. You might, for example, use alcohol as a nightcap to help you sleep, as many people do. However, while alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, it can also interrupt your sleep. It can lead you to wake up earlier than usual, need more trips to the bathroom, intensify respiratory difficulties, disrupt the restorative REM-sleep period of your sleep, and cause you to wake up earlier than usual. All of this adds up to a poor night’s sleep. You may take longer to fall asleep if you forgo the nightcap, but you will sleep better and wake up feeling more rejuvenated and well-rested.
Alcohol can also be used to boost your mood or as a coping method for stress. While a few drinks may have the desired effect of helping you feel happier or less worried, alcohol is a depressant and will make you feel more upset and unhappy in the long run. Regular alcohol consumption depresses the central nervous system and lowers serotonin levels in the brain, making you unhappy and more susceptible to worry than previously.
It can be challenging to overcome the misconceptions and false notions you have built up in your head, even when you know how your self-medicating is merely momentarily hiding your difficulties rather than providing any meaningful purpose. However, the more you question your beliefs about the benefits of self-medication, the less power they will have over your actions. You can do so by substituting your substance use with more effective, healthier ways of dealing with your difficulties.
Tip #3: Find healthier Coping Mechanisms
It is easier to believe that you have no control over your mental health difficulties. But no matter what you are dealing with, there are always actions you can do to enhance your mood and symptoms, whether or not you seek professional help. Most persons suffering from depression, anxiety, or stress, for example, respond effectively to self-help techniques such as:
Seeking Social Help. Face-to-face conversation with a friend or loved one is the most relaxing thing you can do for your nervous system. Even if you are socially isolated, you may find ways to connect with family and friends daily to relieve tension and anxiety and improve your mood.
Increasing physical activity. Exercise causes profound brain changes that can improve your mood, relieve stress, and promote sensations of calmness and well-being. Exercise can also act as a useful diversion, allowing you to break out from the negative thought cycle that often drives mood problems.
Developing a relaxing technique. Meditation, deep breathing, or yoga are all relaxation techniques that can help you relax and feel calmer and more cheerful throughout the day.
Improving your sleeping habits. Sleep deprivation can worsen depression, stress, anxiety, mood disorders, and the use of certain substances, making it more challenging to get a decent night’s sleep. You can stop the cycle and improve your nighttime sleep by staying clean and developing new daytime and bedtime behaviours.
Eating a more nutritious diet. The food you eat has a significant impact on your mood. Reducing your sugar and junk food intake, increasing your diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, and boosting your omega-3 fatty acid intake can all help you feel better and have more energy.
Dealing with Depression
It can feel terrible and helpless when you are depressed as if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. However, there are numerous things you can do to improve and maintain your mood, ranging from confronting negative thinking to spending time in nature and planning exciting activities in your day.
Anxiety can be referred as a set of disorders rather than a single illness. Some people have uncontrollable panic episodes, while others shudder at the prospect of mixing with strangers at a party or deal with unreasonable concerns, anxiety attacks, or depressed mood.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health issues, and they’re also one of the most manageable. Stressing, for example, is a mental habit you can learn how to eliminate.
It may seem like there is nothing you can do to relieve tension. The bills keep building up, there never seem to be enough hours in the day, and your work and family obligations never seem to end.
But whether your stress comes at a regular time or as a surprise, there’s still a lot you can do to keep your stress under control.
Tip #4: Use a variety of therapies.
A dual diagnosis or co-occurring condition occurs when self-medicating a mental health issue triggers a substance abuse problem (addiction or dependency). To obtain therapy for a co-occurring disorder, you’ll need to address both the substance abuse problem and the mental health problems that first prompted your drug or alcohol use. Detoxification, withdrawal management, therapy, and/or attendance at peer support groups may all be part of your substance misuse treatment. Depending on the intensity of the addiction, some people can attain and maintain recovery independently with the help of friends and loved ones, while others require professional assistance.
Self-help techniques, healthy lifestyle modifications, individual or group therapy, and medication may be used to treat your mental health issues.
What can you do to assist someone who is choosing self-medication?
It might be challenging to assist a loved one who is self-medicating. It would help if you overcame any denial they may have regarding their difficulties or substance usage, assisting them in recognizing why they are self-medicating, and then address both the underlying condition and the problems caused by their drinking or drug usage.
It is crucial to keep in mind that you cannot take care of your loved one’s difficulties for them. You cannot make someone deal with their mental illness any more than you can make someone stay sober. You can, however, urge your loved one to seek assistance while also offering your love and support.
Speak with the individual. Talk to your loved one about the harmful behaviours and difficulties you have noticed while you are both sober and calm. Listen to them without being judgmental or accusatory and encouraging them to open to you.
Find out as much as you can about the person’s underlying mental health problems that have led them to self-medicate. You will be better able to support your loved one’s rehabilitation if you have a greater understanding of what they are going through.
Encourage your loved one to get medical assistance. Suggest seeing a doctor for a general checkup and perhaps offer to accompany them on the initial visit. Speaking with a professional about their reasons for self-medicating may help them see their difficulties more clearly.
When your loved one is alcoholic, do not drink or use drugs with them or quarrel about their substance usage. Instead, spend your time together doing interesting, healthy activities and hobbies that do not require drinking or using drugs.
Encourage people to interact with one another. It can be tempting for someone who is depressed, anxious, or suffering from any mental health issue to escape into their shell. However, maintaining social contact and receiving support from friends and family members is critical for their recovery.
Define your limitations. Be honest with yourself about how much care and time you can provide your loved one without becoming overwhelmed. Set and keep to boundaries for inappropriate behaviour. Allowing the difficulties of a friend or loved one to take over your life is unhealthy for both of you.
Patience is required. It takes time to recover from depression, anxiety, or any other ailment that caused them to self-medicate. Relapse is a regular occurrence throughout the recovery process. Be patient, optimistic, and encouraging.
Seek out your own help. It is easy to become depressed because of your loved one’s troubles. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what you are going through. Getting your treatment or joining a support group for persons dealing with similar challenges may also be beneficial.