Depressed woman self-medicating with alcohol and drugs while looking out window

If you’re living with a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, the symptoms can make your life difficult. So, it’s natural to want relief. Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs may help take your mind off your condition and ease your symptoms for a little while. However, here’s why using substances to “self-medicate” can be harmful and lead to more issues, such as addiction.

Does self-medicating with substances seem like the only way to get relief from anxiety or depression? Contact Georgetown Behavioral Hospital for a better way.

What Does Self-Medicating with Alcohol and Drugs Mean?

Most people with mental conditions like anxiety or depression know that something is wrong. Maybe they’ve even learned enough about mental health to recognize their symptoms. Or perhaps they’ve already received a diagnosis. In any case, someone who self-medicates with alcohol and drugs takes substances to relieve their symptoms.

Here’s an example. Imagine that you had social anxiety but wanted to go to a party. If you didn’t want to take prescription medication or go to therapy, you might use drugs or alcohol instead. The substance might dull your anxiety or make you feel more outgoing – at least for a while.

Why Is Self-Medicating Harmful?

Why Self-Medicating a Mental Illness Harmful Infographic

Self-medicating with alcohol or illicit drugs can be extremely harmful. Because it seems to work so well, you may come to rely on the substance. Before long, you may find that you can’t get through simple everyday tasks, social events, or even relaxing at home without a drink in hand or a drug to make you feel better. Eventually, you might use it even when you aren’t having symptoms. At this point, it has become a real addiction.

Depression and Substance Abuse

When you’re having depression symptoms, you might consider almost any means of escape. For some, that means dulling the pain with alcohol. Others might take drugs or alcohol so they can sleep through the worst times. The problem is that both alcohol and sedative drugs only make depression worse. At the same time, you could develop an addiction you can’t overcome alone.

However, not everyone who self-medicates for depression chooses a “downer.” Some people want the opposite effect. They might look for drugs like cocaine that boost their energy and brighten their mood. Yet, these drugs don’t help in the long run, either. In fact, they may create anxiety or trigger mania if you

have bipolar disorder. On the other hand, after they wear off, you may crash to a deeper depression than before. Depression and substance abuse simply don’t blend well at any time.

Anxiety and Addiction

Many people use alcohol to disguise or cover symptoms of mental illnesses, and that includes anxiety. For some people, drinking alcohol seems the best way to get past symptoms like restlessness, irritability, worrying, or feeling on edge. If the alcohol works for a time, you may drink more and more often. Later, you may find that it doesn’t have the same effect, but you’ve already become addicted.

There are many drugs that help or seem to help with anxiety. In fact, some prescription anti-anxiety medications can help you long enough to learn more helpful coping skills. However, most doctors prefer to only prescribe these medications for a short time and in as low a dose as possible to get the best results. If you take drugs like benzodiazepines whenever you have the slightest anxiety, you may very quickly become addicted. In addition, if you take them for long enough, they will stop helping as much, and you may be tempted to take more and more.

Self-Medicating Can’t Solve the Deeper Problems

Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs is harmful for another reason, too. It not only tends to lead to addiction. It also fails to address the deeper mental health concerns you’re experiencing. When you self-medicate, you may cover up your depression or anxiety for a while. Yet, it’s still there, and it probably won’t get better until you get a treatment that addresses your mental health directly.

Overcoming Negative Coping Methods

Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs is one type of negative coping method. Every time you experience an uncomfortable symptom and reach for a substance, you cope in a way that is harmful to you. Yet, there are other negative ways of coping. For example, you might simply avoid anything that might bring up bad feelings. Or you might overeat to dull the pain. You might engage in impulsive spending to feel better.

The good news is that there are healthier ways of coping with symptoms of mental health issues. In therapy, you can learn new ways to reframe thoughts so that your feelings begin to change. Your therapist might also teach you healthy coping skills so that you can manage symptoms better when they come.

A psychiatrist may prescribe a medication to help you while you learn more about how to deal with your mental condition and your daily life. Many people have made their way to a mentally healthier life when they got the help that they needed to stop self-medicating and start coping more effectively.

Is There a Treatment for People Who Self-Medicate?

You may wonder if there is really a treatment that would help you if you already self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. The answer is that yes, there are treatments to help you. For those who have developed a substance use disorder, dual diagnosis treatment may be your best option. In dual diagnosis treatment, you get help with both your mental condition and your substance use disorder.

However, suppose you haven’t been self-medicating long enough to become addicted. If that is true, you may be able to avoid addiction completely. By getting help for your mental disorder, you can find the best ways to cope. Then, it will be easier to stop self-medicating now.

Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Treatments at GBH

At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, we provide mental health services for people in and around Georgetown, Ohio. Depending on your needs, you can take advantage of our inpatient center’s detox, addiction, or mental health programs. In addition, we offer a dual diagnosis treatment program that may be just right for you if you’re trying to break free of self-medicating.

Depression, anxiety, or any of a wide variety of mental illnesses can bring symptoms that may almost seem unbearable. So, it’s understandable if you want your symptoms to go away. We at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital are committed to helping you reduce your symptoms, learn positive coping skills, and achieve the good mental health you deserve. While using alcohol and drugs might seem like a fast, easy way to get relief, there are more effective, long-lasting ways to improve your life.

Our goal is to ease your suffering and help you gain control over your mental health and your life. If you’re ready to begin, the Georgetown Behavioral Hospital team is here to help you get started. You don’t have to wait another day to start living a more satisfying life.

Are you concerned that your self-medicating might become an addiction? Reach out to Georgetown Behavioral Hospital to find treatment options.

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