AddictionDual DiagnosisMental HealthSubstance Abuseself medicating

A pre-existing mental health disorder is high on the list of the most common risk factors for addiction. People with any range of mental health challenges may turn to substances to self-medicate—a dangerous practice. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires treatment like any other. Treatment can position someone to live a long healthy life despite the chronic condition of addiction. Often, there is an underlying mental health issue that intersects in many ways with substance abuse. These kinds of co-occurring disorders require a mental health practitioner to make what is called a dual diagnosis.

When there is a dual diagnosis, it is important to receive specific treatment that addresses both conditions—addiction and mental health issues—in a coordinated approach. If you are concerned that you or someone you love is self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to mask the symptoms of a mental health disorder, don’t hesitate. Find out how you can get help.

For information about dual diagnosis and self-medicating and how Serenity Light Recovery can help, contact us by filling out our online form or calling 855.658.6109. We are happy to help.

Self-Medicating Behaviors

When someone uses drugs or alcohol, either consciously or unconsciously, to mute or manage symptoms of a mental health or other health condition, this is known as “self-medicating.” For those who use drugs or alcohol, the goal is not to achieve euphoria but to assuage emotional pain or discomfort and other symptoms. However, there does not need to be a diagnosis for people to self-medicate. In fact, it is more common for someone with anxiety disorder, PTSD, depression disorder, etc., to self-medicate than someone undergoing treatment.

People who self-medicate may do it for two different but connected reasons:

  1. To cope with their feelings and the emotional strain of having a co-occurring health or mental health condition
  2. To mitigate the actual symptoms, whether it’s physical pain, emotional pain, anxiety, panic, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, and more

When there are no solutions readily available, sufferers may feel that self-medication is the only thing that will help. However, after an initial stage when things seem better, the dependence on alcohol or drugs only makes things worse.

Dangers of Self-Medicating

Whether mental health issues have been diagnosed or not, the symptoms are there regardless. Once you are self-medicating, it is harder to diagnose any underlying mental health condition. If you are in treatment for your mental health issues, self-medication can interfere with your treatment. In either case, self-medicating can worsen symptoms of illness and result in addiction. Stimulants like cocaine, for instance, exacerbate symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Substance abuse can also lead to new mental health disorders arising to complicate someone’s psychosocial landscape. There is some research, for example, that links marijuana use in teens with early-onset psychosis.

Below are some specific risks of self-medicating:

  • Delay in help-seeking – If you are taking drugs or drinking to mask symptoms, you are less likely to get professional advice and seek proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Dangerous drug interactions – If you are taking a medication for your co-occurring disorder and abusing alcohol or another drug (not as prescribed or without a prescription), it can be dangerous.
  • Incorrect dosage – If you are taking a prescription drug not prescribed to you or not according to dosage instructions, you are taking a serious risk of developing adverse side effects or overdosing.
  • Incorrect self-diagnosis – Many people self-medicate without consciously realizing what they are doing, but if you have diagnosed yourself with something, such as anxiety or OCD, and attempt to medicate yourself, your potential misdiagnosis can lead to further complications.
  • Dependence, abuse, and addiction – As mentioned earlier, self-medicating puts you at great risk of addiction.

Getting Help for a Dual-Diagnosis

If you or someone you know has been self-medicating for a suspected or diagnosed co-occurring mental health issue, it’s time to get help.

At Serenity Light Recovery, our professional team of medical and mental health practitioners treats co-occurring disorders in a coordinated, team approach using evidence-based practices. We can help you at whatever stage you find yourself. Don’t wait. Contact us today by calling 855.658.6109 or using our online form. You don’t have to do this by yourself.