Self-Medication – How Coping Strategies can evolve into Addictive Behaviours

Today, we have decided to bring up a topic that affects almost everybody at some point in their lives. Everyone has moments of stress, anxiety, and depression, and though some cases might be easy to deal with and short-lived, others most certainly are not. It is not uncommon for people to turn to something to make themselves feel better during these difficult times, whether it is turning to food or going out for a few drinks. Self-medication is very real, and it is crucial to understand it before it leads to addictive behaviours. If we refuse to recognise self-medication, it can lead to severe health consequences and a significant decrease in our quality of life, so take note of what we are about to discuss in case you or anyone you know is struggling right now.

Self-Medication Explained

To give some clarity, self-medication is when we use substances, activities, or other habits to alleviate physical or psychological pain without consulting a professional. Sometimes, this practice can be positive, such as going for a run to forget about stress. However, more often than not, people numb this pain using unhealthy methods. Even if this does provide temporary relief, it can often worsen our mental health and lead us to want more of our chosen coping mechanism. 

Why is it Common for People to Self-Medicate?

There are many reasons why people often decide to self-medicate. Often, it is related to being influenced by societal norms and personal experience. Most of us feel specific pressures to accelerate our careers or life goals, causing us to attempt optimal productivity with little rest. With this pressure, it is easy to seek relief from particular substances and behaviours. Furthermore, society accepts that we rely on these to cope, so at the time, it never feels that bad. 

Understanding How Self-Medication Can Go Unnoticed

Due to the majority of the world accepting these coping strategies and the insidious nature of self-medication, it can often go unnoticed when people are relying on them too much. It often begins as something harmless, but things can exacerbate quickly if we don’t check in on ourselves occasionally. Self-medication is also something that helps us deal with mental health issues, so if a person seems happy under the influence of a substance, it makes it more difficult to notice. We must all remember how easy it is to slip into addictive behaviours, so if you have any concerns about anyone around you, check on them and see how they are doing. 

Typical forms of Self Medication

There are many forms of self-medication. As we mentioned before, some might be healthy, but often they are something that can damage our mental and physical health over time. The most common forms of self-medication are as follows:

Drinking Alcohol – This is one of the most widely used substances on the planet, meaning it is easy for someone to access it when they want to self-medicate. When a person begins to self-medicate with alcohol too regularly, it can lead to addiction, liver damage, and a wide range of physical and mental health problems. 

Developing a Reliance on Prescription Drugs – Again, due to accessibility and their legal status in many countries, many individuals go down this path to find solace when struggling with their mental health. Prescription drugs that people self-medicate with are often painkillers and sedatives. When we use these too often, we can quickly develop intense withdrawal symptoms, leading to addiction and increasing the risk of an overdose. 

Turning to Recreational Drugs – It is not uncommon for people to come across illegal recreational drugs in our society. This leads to many people using them to relieve their stress and depression. These substances carry many risks, including addiction, overdose, prosecution, and detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. 

Eating to Self-Medicate – One form of self-medication that is easily overlooked in our society is comfort eating. People dealing with emotional distress often turn to food for temporary relief, which can be a gateway to many other coping mechanisms. Relying on comfort eating often leads to weight gain, which can impact a person’s mental health, leading them down a path towards other addictive behaviours. 

Five Signs You Might be Self-Medicating

Sometimes, it can be challenging to identify when we are relying too much on self-medication. Here are five tell-tale signs you may be self-medicating more often than you should be. 

1 – You may find your substance use increasing in frequency or quantity. If you are drinking or using substances on a regular basis, it is essential to consult a professional. 

2 – You may find that your tolerance to a particular substance is much higher than it used to be. For example, you may need to drink twice the amount of alcohol to feel its effects than you needed a few months ago. 

3 – You may notice that you are returning to a substance any time you feel emotional strain, such as stress or anxiety. If you notice a pattern, it could mean you are using that substance to cope with those particular feelings. 

 4 – If you try to reduce the amount you are consuming, you might find it difficult to cut back. If you find this challenging, it may be a sign of dependency. 

5 – If you are self-medicating with a particular substance, you may feel a decline in your mental health and well-being. Additionally, you might be struggling at work or having trouble with daily tasks and relationships. 

Who You Should Talk to if You Think You Might Be

If you believe you might be overly reliant on a particular substance to help you cope, it is vital to ask for help. Remember, there is no shame in this, and there are numerous ways you can do it. You may feel more comfortable talking to a close friend or family member, or you may want to keep it to yourself and speak to a medical professional. Whatever you decide, ensure you talk to someone. Getting through addiction alone is not the right way. 

What Help is Available to Help Stop Self-Medicating in the Early Stages

There are hundreds of options to stop self-medicating in the early stages. You can consult a medical professional, talk to your closest rehabilitation centre, join a support group, contact a therapist, or phone an addiction prevention hotline. Additionally, there are alternative measures you could take, such as practising mindfulness and meditation, exercising frequently, and developing healthy habits in your daily life.

Why Self Medicating is a Massive Risk

Self-medicating can pose several risks to a person’s life. Besides the likelihood of resulting in addiction, there are other factors you need to understand if you are relying on drugs or alcohol to deal with psychological pain. 

Exacerbate Underlying Mental Health Issues – If a person is self-medicating, it is likely they are struggling with their mental health. However, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, or overeating can be detrimental to our mental health and well-being, worsening the reason for self-medicating in the first place. 

Decline in Physical Health – Substance use can lead to multiple physical health issues, too. Depending on the substance, you may experience low fitness and energy levels, cardiovascular disease, liver failure, respiratory issues, and even cancer. 

Problems with Relationships – Substance use often leads to strain on relationships. Whether it is with friends, family, or a partner, the likelihood of failed relationships is heightened massively when a person uses drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. 

Encountering Financial Troubles – Any substance is going to cost money. Additionally, when a person relies on a substance too often, it is likely for them to struggle with their work-life balance, and they can easily end up out of work. These can create a tremendous financial burden for the person affected and many around them. 

Substances can Result in Legal Consequences – It is also worth mentioning that if a person is using an illegal substance to self-medicate, it can lead to prosecution. This can impact a person’s life for a very long time and make it difficult when applying for jobs, travelling, or meeting new people. 

Ways to Refrain from Self-Medicating

Refraining from self-medication can be a tricky thing to achieve, but there are methods that can help. One common practice that works for many is to develop healthy coping mechanisms such as creative expression, mindfulness, exercise, relaxation techniques and finding other activities to take your mind off the stresses of daily life. Additionally, it is always advised to develop some sort of support network. This can range from an agreement to cut down on drinking between friends or joining an addiction support group. Having a group to ensure we are not alone is one of the most positive steps we can take. Furthermore, any act of self-care is a positive way to avoid relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms. These can be small things such as eating a healthy meal or staying hydrated. When it comes to refraining from self-medication, every little makes a positive difference. 

How Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Can Lead to Self-Medicating

Self-medication is usually a result of a person feeling overly stressed, anxious, or depressed. These triggers are often overwhelming and can easily lead us to crave a substance to alleviate the emotional pain they cause. Seeking temporary help is common practice for many people, but that doesn’t mean we should do it. Self-medication often worsens these feelings and causes them to occur more frequently. If we rely on self-medication without proper support or intervention, it is likely to fall into a cycle of addiction and develop a dependency on the substance. If you are struggling to find an alternative, below are some healthy coping mechanisms that can help you deal with stress, anxiety, or depression:

Healthy Coping Methods to Deal with Stress

Develop Relaxation Techniques – Several relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation, can calm the mind and body, enabling us to think clearly and alleviate stress. 

Stay as Active as Possible – Remaining active and engaging in regular physical activity can massively reduce stress. Whether it is walking, yoga, weightlifting, martial arts, or basketball, find something you enjoy and stick to it. 

Live Healthily – There is a lot to be said about a balanced diet, getting the right amount of sleep, and avoiding unhealthy items such as alcohol and nicotine. The more we practise these, the more relaxed our lives become. 

Know Your Limits – We all want to do our best in every aspect of life, but we need to know when to stop and take some time for ourselves. Try not to get too caught up in your goals and focus on yourself for a moment. 

Healthy Coping Methods to Deal with Anxiety

Practice Mindfulness – Mindfulness might seem like a new buzzword, but it can do tremendous things to reduce anxiety. It involves learning how to feel present in the moment and can often be aided by meditation, body scanning, and breathing exercises to promote an ultimate sense of calm. 

Challenge Your Negative Thoughts – Learning to identify negative thought patterns and challenge them when they arise is essential in anxiety avoidance. It is entirely possible to replace feelings of anxiety and replace them with realistic, balanced, and positive perspectives. 

Identify What Causes You to Feel This Way – Learn what your stressors are to help you avoid them, limiting your exposure to anxiety-inducing situations. We all have something that makes us feel anxious, and self-medication becomes too easy when we feel like this. 

Find Activities Which Help You Relax – We all have something that can help us relax and take our minds off things. This can be walking, exploring nature, listening to music, doodling, or taking a warm bath. Whatever it is, you should incorporate it into your daily life. 

Healthy Coping Methods to Deal with Depression

Identify What Brings You Joy – There will always be activities that bring you great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. Hobbies such as playing a musical instrument, team sports, or simply spending time with those you love can help us feel our best. 

Establish a Routine – Having and sticking to a routine consisting of nutritious meals, exercise, work, sleep, and other activities is a brilliant way to cultivate a positive mindset. 

Practice Self-Care – Remember to be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you deserve happiness. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself or asking for help. 

Develop Deep Connections with Others – Ensure you reach out to friends and family members as often as needed. The more we connect with others, the less likely we will feel alone, counteracting depression.

Do You Need Help with Self-Medication?

If you or anyone you know is struggling with self-medication, don’t be afraid to reach out. At Calm Rehab, we know how difficult times can be throughout our lives, but you are never alone. Our rehab team are dedicated to providing the help and support everyone needs to avoid addiction.

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