Because self-medication can increase your risk for a substance use disorder in the future, it is important to recognize the signs of self-medication and find other ways to deal with symptoms or difficult emotions. Self-medication can look different to different people, based on the reason behind the self-medication and the substance used.

Self-Medication and Trauma

The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE) offered compelling evidence to show a strong link between traumatic events in childhood and a substance use disorder. Researchers found that the more traumatic events people experienced in their childhood (loss of a parent, abuse, neglect), the more likely they were to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Researchers concluded that substances are used to deal with difficult emotions and conditions that might stem from that trauma, including depression, anxiety or related emotions. Unfortunately, use of substances, which may seem helpful in the beginning, usually causes more problems than the individual was dealing with in the first place.

Self-Medication and Mental Illness

Self-medication can also be a problem for those dealing with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety disorders. The substances chosen for this purpose can vary based on the specific illness and symptoms experienced. For example, people struggling with anxiety may find alcohol or sedative drugs relieve their fear. Those dealing with depression may turn to stimulants to give them a burst of energy, while people with aggression-related illnesses might choose opiates as a mood stabilizer.

4 Signs You Might be Self-Medicating

Are you self-medicating? There are a few signs to watch for:

  • Turning to substances when you feel negative emotions like stress or anger
  • Symptoms of your mental illness worsen after you use drugs or alcohol
  • Problems are starting to arise (financial, professional, social) that can be attributed to your substance use
  • You are showing other signs of addiction (substance tolerance, cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the substance)
  • Others have noticed and commented on your substance use

Self-medication may seem to help at first, but the practice can lead to dangerous, long-term consequences. To find out if you are self-medicating or to get help for an addiction that has developed as a result of your self-medication, contact Treatment Now.

Dangers of Self Medication

While self-medication may seem to have a positive effect at the beginning, those positive results are likely to be short-lived. Some of the risks associated with self-medication include:

  • Higher risk of develop a substance use disorder or addiction to the substance
  • Masking symptoms of mental illness, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat
  • Long-term use of substances can actually exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness
  • Substance use combined with a mental illness can increase the risk for suicide
  • Having both a mental illness and substance use disorder simultaneously complicates the treatment options for both conditions