The reasons people abuse substances vary greatly. Peer pressure, curiosity, and a desire to feel a certain way are all driving factors, but an incredibly prominent reason rates of substance abuse continue to rise is the increasing number of people self-medicating. Self-medicating is a term used to describe when someone uses drugs or alcohol to mask symptoms of an underlying issue.

Self-medication is often associated with mental health disorders. In many cases, a person begins using drugs or alcohol as a means of easing symptoms of an underlying condition. While this can provide temporary relief, in the long-run, this generally leads to a worsening of issues. Substance abuse can exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions and lead to the development of an addiction that perpetuates the feelings a person was trying to escape in the first place.

Signs of Self-Medication

Self-medication can develop for a variety of reasons. In most cases, these stem for underlying issues that are not being addressed. Mental health conditions, environmental factors, stress, or medical problems are common reasons people begin abusing substances. While their intent may not be to achieve a high initially, over time, misuse leads to dependency and addiction. Using substances to cope with symptoms of underlying issues may provide temporary relief, but it does nothing to help solve the problem. Instead, self-medicating compounds issues, creates additional difficulty, and can worsen a person’s overall well-being.

Identifying when a person is self-medicating early on can help you reduce the risk of addiction developing. Some signs that self-medication may be a growing issue include:


    1. When you feel stressed, depressed, anxious, or uncomfortable, you use drugs or alcohol:
      Using substances to cope with everyday stressors indicates a problem is developing. Many people refer to this as “drowning their troubles” at the end of a long day in an attempt to normalize abusive behaviors, but regularly using substances to cope with difficult emotions or experiences can worsen a person’s overall health.


    1. Your overall well-being worsens when using substances: Initially, using substances to cope with stressors may provide relief, but over time, these behaviors can worsen physical and mental health. You may find that sleep eludes you, your negative moods become stronger and last longer, and you become ill more frequently. Prolonging use of drugs or alcohol to mask symptoms of underlying issues no longer works after some time. This can cause some to begin using more frequently or increasing their doses in order to achieve the same effects.


    1. You feel anxiety when you cannot use drugs or alcohol: Although using drugs or alcohol worsens mental health, the very thought of not getting to use them can create similar negative emotions. If you feel restless, anxious, irritable, or stressed when you cannot use drugs or alcohol, it can indicate dependencies are developing.


    1. Your problems get worse over time: Using drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication is an attempt to avoid problems through escape. Even though a person’s intention is to silence their problems through substances, they often find that their list of issues is growing. Substance abuse can create financial problems, relationship issues, and trouble at work or in school. Many often begin to develop additional issues with physical and mental health which can affect their confidence levels and ability to experience happiness.


  1. Your family and friends notice and are worried: You may not find your use troubling, but those around you might. Family and friends tend to be the first to notice changes in a person when they are abusing drugs or alcohol. Even if you do not agree with their perspective, it is important to listen to them and consider their concerns. They may be seeing something in you that you are unable to.

How to Avoid Self-Medicating

Once you are trapped in a cycle of self-medicating for stressors and other issues, it can be difficult to stop. Rather than using drugs or alcohol to cope, it is important to find healthy outlets for issues. Some ways you can avoid falling into the trap of self-medicating include:


    • Identify what is fueling the problem: Substance abuse is almost always ignited by an outside influence. Whether it be peer pressure, stress, or a way of coping with symptoms of mental health conditions, identifying what causes you to turn to drugs and alcohol is vital. Once you are able to determine what is influencing these behaviors, you can explore alternative ways of addressing them.


    • Find healthy alternatives: Having other activities or interests that help you manage symptoms can reduce the risk of substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol are often used as a means of escaping negative emotions. Exploring other activities that provide that same getaway is vital to maintaining your physical and mental health. Exercising, art, writing, music, and other extracurricular activities can provide a cathartic feeling without threatening your wellbeing. Try different things to find what really speaks to you.


  • Ask for help: If the problems fueling substance abuse are related to a mental health issue, it is important to seek professional help. Working with a professional to identify an underlying mental health condition can ensure you get proper treatment. Therapy and other forms of counseling can help you manage symptoms effectively without relying on substances to temporarily find relief. In some cases, it may be beneficial to join a support group and network with those who share similar experiences.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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