What Is Self-Medication and Why is it Dangerous?

Self-medication is a big problem today. Substances are affordable, available, and often advertised, making it all-too easy to turn to substances to relieve uncomfortable feelings.

In this article, we’re taking a look at a common question we hear from visitors – what is self-medication?

What Is Self-Medication?

You’re overwhelmed at work. You don’t have enough money. You fear the coronavirus. You’re stressed out at home. You can’t get good sleep. You know yourself best and how to make yourself feel better.

These are common reasons people seek and find their own form of treatment, to self-medicate. You may have done this too, whether you have periods of anxiousness or have been feeling depressed for months.

For many, scheduling an evaluation with a professional spacializing in mental health treatment is not the first thought when symptoms arise. This can be especially true for those struggling with mental health issues.

Mental illnesses don’t appear suddenly but over weeks and months. You have found a coping method that may have worked initially, like drinking a few glasses of wine each night to feel happier—or taking someone else’s prescription medication for anxiety. Maybe you have been smoking marijuana daily to relax.

By the time you are ready to make an appointment for help, you have likely been self-medicating for a while. Your symptoms have usually grown and become interference in your life. Self-medication comes in many forms, including overworking, overeating, overspending, and for many, abusing drugs and alcohol.

Still not sure if you have been self-medicating? That’s okay. Keep reading to see if any of the behaviors below match yours.

Am I Self-Medicating?

When you experience negative emotions, like sadness, anger, or anxiety, you drink or use drugs because they make you feel better. When something tragic happens, you drink or use drugs to help you get through. If drinking or using drugs does not make you feel better, you use more, not less, in hopes they will work eventually.

If you aren’t able to access drugs or alcohol right away, you feel nervous. You have had to increase the number of drugs or alcohol you consume to achieve the same effect. You have mixed drugs or alcohol, thinking you will feel better.

Do your friends or family think you are self-medicating? Are your problems getting worse no matter what you do?

Answering yes to any of these means you are self-medicating and could be facing danger.

Here are some of the common dangers of self-medication.

1. Your Mental Health Problems Could Get Worse

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol will only increase negative mental health symptoms. Alcohol, opioids, and anti-anxiety medicines are depressants. If you have depression, this will increase your depression.

Some drugs like marijuana and methamphetamines can cause paranoia, giving you additional mental health symptoms. It would be rare to meet someone who has been self-medicating that feels their symptoms have improved.

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2. You Could Overdose

When you are self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, you do not know the right dosage to take. And if you are taking illegal drugs, you don’t even know what other ingredients were used to make the drugs you are consuming.

Furthermore, once your brain is intoxicated, it cannot make a rational decision to stop drinking or using drugs. This leads to overconsumption and possible overdose.

3. Administration Dangers

Some people who self-medicate think changing how they administer the drug will help them feel higher faster. They crush a pill so they can snort it or liquify it for injection. All forms of administration can be dangerous.

Taking medication or multiple medications orally can lead to intestinal and digestive problems. Snorting can damage your sinus passages’ lining, and injections can lead to abscesses and infections. And these are the milder damages that self-medicating can produce.

4. Side Effects and Interactions

If your self-medication protocol involves mixing drugs, alcohol, or both, then you are at serious risk for side effects and interactions.

Medicines are created for specific uses. Mixing it with drugs that counteract or increase the drug’s effects, you could experience nausea, vomiting, seizures, and even respiratory or heart failure.

Drugs that are depressants, like morphine, suppress the respiratory system. Alcohol, Xanax, and even marijuana do the same. If you combine one or two or more of these substances, your respiratory system is on suppression overload. Eventually, you will stop breathing.

The opposite is true, also. If you take multiple types of stimulants, your heart will be working overtime. It can only do that for so long before it stops working.

If you mix stimulants with depressants, your organs may become confused about which job it is supposed to do. This extra pressure can lead to failure.

5. Addiction

If you have been self-medicating for a while, you may have already formed a dependence or addiction. If you experience withdrawal symptoms when you avoid self-medicating, you may be addicted.

Withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, severe flu-like signs, tremors, and digestive symptoms, to name a few. If your withdrawal symptoms go away as soon as you use them, your body has become dependent on the substances you use to self-medicate.

Self-medicating can change your personality and influence you to do things you would never do if you were sober. You may find yourself stealing money or stealing items to get money to support your self-medication needs.

You may lie to your friends and family about your self-medication behaviors, trying to minimize them. You may have even lost a job, car, or relationship over self-medicating. Yet, you continue.

This is not the person or the life you want.

You can stop self-medicating, get the right diagnosis, get the appropriate treatment, and enjoy a good life. It is not too late. To do this, you need help.

Get the Help You Need

The first step in getting help for self-medicating behaviors, reach out to the local mental health center to schedule an evaluation. A licensed mental health provider can not only give you an accurate diagnosis of the symptoms with which you are trying to cope, but they can also help you stop relying on drugs and alcohol.

A psychiatrist can treat any withdrawal symptoms you may have, and a therapist can teach you coping skills specific to your diagnosis. With the right treatment, you will not need to self-medicate.