The Underlying Causes of Self-Medication
by 449 Staff

Self-medication is frequently a result of untreated mental health disorders, trauma, abuse, intense emotional experiences, and maladaptive coping skills. Unmet mental health needs often result in individuals seeking relief, even when that relief is temporary or achieved through unsafe methods. Appropriate mental health treatment could be extremely effective in reducing the incidence rates of substance use disorders.

Studies show that there is a high rate at which substance use disorders and mental disorders occur together. Approximately 51% of individuals who met the criteria for a substance use disorder also met the criteria for mental disorders at some point during their lives. A prominent explanation is that people often resort to using psychoactive substances to distract themselves from the painful mental health symptoms they experience.

Theories suggest also that substance use and mental health disorders have similar underlying environmental and genetic causes. Addiction is a chronic disease that may or may not be activated depending on these factors as well as the care and resources that an individual receives.

Mental Health Disorders

There are various mental health disorders that may predispose an individual to self-medication. Some of these are:

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • OCD
  • Paranoia
  • Dissociative disorders
  • PTSD

Unfortunately, the accessibility of mental health treatment is nowhere near where it would be in an ideal world in which everyone who needs services feels able to seek them. Not everyone has the resources to be able to get the help that they need. Others do have resources but are hesitant to seek the treatment they need because of their fear of judgment or the stigma. Although mental health awareness has drastically improved over the years, there is still a long way to go.

Too many children are growing up with mental health disorders that are untreated because the adults around them do not acknowledge the need for treatment. Unfortunately, leaving these disorders untreated in children can create adults with intense symptoms and a lack of knowledge on how to cope. When individuals are unable to cope properly and healthily, they tend to resort to a quick fix: drugs, alcohol, and other distractions.

How to Know if You Are Self-Medicating

There are several common signs that indicate you may be self-medicating, and it can be very helpful to be aware of them. Some people may not be aware of their unhealthy dependence on self-medication until it has progressed to an uncontrollable level. 

The warning signs of self-medication include:

  1. You turn to drugs or alcohol when you are upset, angry, depressed, anxious, or bored, or you have an overwhelming desire to do so. If you regularly use substances to cope when you are stressed, you are likely self-medicating.
  2. Drugs and or alcohol make you feel even worse after the fact. Drugs and alcohol can only provide a temporary fix to the problem of unpleasant feelings or situations. Once the effects wear off, individuals usually feel even worse than before. Common side effects include impaired sleep, lower energy levels, and impaired function of the immune system, which may make people more vulnerable to getting sick.
  3. Over time, it takes more and more of a substance for you to feel relief. If at one point it took only one or so drinks to feel better, but you have noticed it now takes two, three, or even more, you are self-medicating. As you continue to do so, your tolerance will increase, which creates a dangerous cycle.
  4. Your problems seem to be multiplying. If you started to drink or use a drug to cope with stress, but now it seems you have worse health, relationship, career, and financial issues, you might be self-medicating. Because self-medication does not solve the problems in your life but only temporarily relieves your stress about them, the more you self-medicate, the more your problems will be able to get out of hand.
  5. The people in your life are concerned about your substance use. Substance abuse affects not only you but also everyone around you. Your friends and family may be expressing their worries or fears concerning your coping mechanisms.

Treatment at 449 Recovery

449 Recovery does not call itself a treatment center for addiction, but rather a mental health treatment center for those with maladaptive coping skills, which often includes addiction. At 449 Recovery, the underlying causes of self-medication are always the focus of treatment. That’s why there are extensive resources of mental health treatments provided.

Treatment is provided for anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, behavioral issues, co-morbidities, and addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Weekly, clients will meet with an entire team of professionals consisting of a psychiatrist, therapist, and case manager, to address and treat underlying mental health concerns that lead to or contribute to their self-medication. The deep-rooted causes will not be overlooked at 449 Recovery.

A treatment center that prioritizes understanding and treating the issues that led an individual to begin self-medicating can make a huge difference. When an individual grows up with untreated mental illnesses and a lack of coping mechanisms, they are much more inclined to begin misusing substances. Those who are uninformed and/or uneducated in the field of mental health and substance use disorders may be under the impression that an individual chose to be an addict. However, thanks to years of studies, research, and improved education, we can recognize that addiction is a chronic brain disease. Just like any other disease, there are factors that cause it to come to the surface and get increasingly worse. However, healing through treatment is also possible. To get help for self-medication or to learn more about treatment that emphasizes mental health support, call 449 Recovery today at (949) 435-7449.



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