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Healing from Self-Medication

Embark Behavioral Health
April 5, 2021

Are you concerned that your teen is using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate? Self-medication is more common among teens than most realize with nearly 46 percent of adolescents reporting self-medication habits.

It is a normal response to seek relief from pain and how people choose to self-medicate varies widely. Self-medication can take the form of intense exercise, eating, improper use of prescription medications, alcohol, and even illegal drugs. Self-medication can be harmful, causing increased risk to one’s health, including addiction. 

If you are concerned your teen is self-medicating, it is important to get them the help they need quickly. Here are some tips for helping your teen heal from the destruction of self-medication. 

Treating Self-Medication by Acknowledging Pain

People who self-medicate often do so because they do not know how to manage their pain. One of the first things your teen will do when they start treatment will be to develop trusting and safe relationships where their nervous system, emotional system, and thinking brain can allow them to explore the source of their pain and then learn to acknowledge the entirety of the pain and associated behaviors, in order to practice healthy ways of coping with that pain. 

Emotional regulation is an essential ingredient in treating self-medication tendencies. They will learn to experience emotional vulnerability and create a balance between feeling regulated versus dysregulated from the underlying pain, shame, or other negative emotions. Practicing emotional regulation through the co-regulatory experiences with safe others, will help reduce the perception and experience of pain and give your teen more control over their response to painful triggers leading to self-medication. 

Mindfulness and Self-Medication

Because facing pain often means facing trauma from the past, healing from self-medication will require consistent experiences of healing relationships which allow for mindfulness and increased awareness to resolve the trauma and the resultant pain that leads to self-medication or other destructive habits. Treatment will include an in-depth exploration of what is causing the pain that is producing the compensating behavior of self-medication. Your teen will experience the therapeutic relationship necessary to learn to identify these factors and ultimately, have the self-efficacy to make sense of the distress, trauma, and shame creating the drive to self-medicate.

Practicing mindfulness will not only help your teen learn how to cope with the past, but also how to accept the present. Treatment for self-medication will give your teen the tools to increase co-regulation capacity and self-regulation ability to experience safety and comfort in the present by making sense of the past. They will gain the resources to seek out safe and productive relationships, clear their mind, think critically about their circumstances, and transform their experience of pain. 

Responding to the Urge to Self-Medicate

If your teen has self-medicated before with substances, then they will likely have cravings or more intense urges to use substances again. In treatment, your teen will learn to resist self-medication through a variety of tools, including relational security, emotional regulation, and stress management. Ultimately, your teen will be able to respond productively to the urge to self-medicate, instead of reacting out of habit or emotion. 

Freedom from Self-Medication

As you and your teen practice the relational and communication skills they learned in treatment, they increase their ability to regulate the urge to self-medicate or the addictions causing their urges. They will learn to seek comfort with trusted adults, tolerate cravings, experience a reduction in urges, and learn to accept the present in a healthy way. 

No matter how your teen is self-medicating, your family has the power to make new choices. Using the tools they experience in treatment, they can release the pain, take control of their life, and resist the urge to self-medicate

You can resist the urge to self-medicate. Find the pain at the source and free yourself from the urges. Call Embark Behavioral Health at 1-855-809-0409 if you need a refresher. You have the power to be free. 

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of clinics and programs offering premier mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults. Dedicated to its mission of reversing the trends of adolescent and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark is unlike any other behavioral health organization in the United States. Embark offers a full continuum and spectrum of services, a unique 25-years of specialization, a deep legacy of serving youth, and a set of internationally validated outcomes that drive treatment in real-time. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including wilderness therapy, long-term residential treatment centers, short-term residential treatment centers, day treatment, partial hospitalization (PHP) programs, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), outpatient, and virtual counseling.