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Why Do People Self-Medicate?

April 21, 2020

Whether or not you use substances, plenty of other people do. Some people seem to be able to have a social drink or maybe use a stimulant for study sessions, or maybe they are addicted to opioids because they needed pain medication for something. But beyond a drink now and then or the very occasional use of marijuana or other recreational drug becomes more than just social usage. Most of the time, this usage is more about self-medicating. But why do people self-medicate?

Escaping the Pain

Substances offer perceived escape. A chance to escape reality, or to escape emotional or even physical pain. Unfortunately, a lot of pain is caused by bullying, abuse, trauma, the loss of someone, or other emotional wounds, some of which may have been formed in childhood. Emotional wounds are not always visible, but they do often hurt subconsciously and cause us to hurt and act out.
So often, we may not even realize why we hurt, we just do. Our bodies and minds can feel when our soul is hurting, and the pain can be tangible. So we take one drink, one pill, one hit, one of whatever, and maybe for a second we feel less pain. So, the obvious conclusion is where one helps, more will help even more. Only that is unfortunately not how substances work.
Maybe in math, two plus two equals four, but in substance use, the consequences add up more quickly than any benefits. And the more you use, the longer you use, the less some substances’ effects  are, too. You keep drinking or using more, and getting less and less escape. Trying to escape the pain is pretty ineffective unless you can get to the root of your problems.

Masking the Root Cause

On the outside, maybe people think you have a drinking problem, or other substance problem. And maybe you do, that is possibly also true. But substances only mask the source of your pain. For example, if you have suffered emotional or physical abuse at any point in your life, you carry emotional, if not also physical scars from that. Because abuse is wrong, and it hurts your soul even more than it hurts your body. 
If you haven’t been able to address your abuse, to work through the pain, and heal from that pain, then it will keep hurting until you do. The same goes for losing someone you love, whether in a relationship or perhaps losing a friend or relative to death. It is also true when surviving any kind of traumatic event or being bullied. Or any combination of the above. There are many sources for the cause of your pain, but using substances only masks those sources.

Compounding Your Problems

The deep-lying problems you have are already causing you pain and likely causing emotional, behavioral, or physical problems, too, such as anger, depression, sleep interruptions, eating too much or too little, and more. And that pain is not going away, either, it is just harming you more. So, if you add substance use to self-medicate, then you are just compounding your problems.
If you are under the age of 21, then all substance use is illegal, so you might find yourself with legal problems on top of everything else, particularly if you drive under the influence. The list of physical side effects and harm for alcohol, marijuana, and other recreational drugs is extensive. There are other problems that might be created in work, school, and family life when you use substances. Truly, the list keeps going. If you were looking for an escape in substance use, you have really just compounded your problems exponentially. 

Becoming Addicted

Another massive problem you can create in self-medication is addiction. Depending on the substance and how much you are using, you might become addicted very quickly. This becomes very difficult because now you are battling a substance use disorder, and you may forget that you still need to heal from your pain. You have created another big problem that will take a lot of work in order for you to get back to where you started, and can impact you mentally and physically for the rest of your life.

Co-Occurring Disorder

One of the biggest causes of self-medication is having a co-occurring mental health issue. The pain from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues can cause you to seek relief in substances. Here again, though, self-medication compounds your problems, because many mental health issues are made much worse by the use of substances. When your substance use becomes an addiction, then you have two very complicated and intertwined disorders to solve. When you can simply diagnose and treat your mental health issue, it is much easier than when you add a substance addiction.
Why do people self-medicate? They are looking to relieve their pain. Unfortunately, self-medicating with substances just creates so many new problems. Whether you are trying to deal with a mental health issue, or pain from trauma or loss, you can become addicted, which just multiplies your pain and your risks that much more. If you think you may be self-medicating, reach out for help. You can find the root of your problems and heal. Find your treatment, heal the pain.

Find out why you self-medicate. Join our outpatient treatment programs at Potomac Programs by calling 1-855-809-0409 today. Heal the emotional pain. 

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