Substance abuse and suicide are often connected, as some people attempt to self-medicate deal with stressful and uncomfortable situations. Turning to self-medication could potentially lead to suicide if underlying issues are left untreated. National Suicide Prevention Week (NSPW) was honored this month from September 6 through 12. Since 1975, this themed week has taken place every year as an opportunity to educate about suicide and promote its prevention.
Self-medication refers to using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to manage mental health issues. The 2018 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that about 20.3 million Americans age 12 or over had a substance use disorder, which encompasses abuse and addiction, in the past year. Some people use substances to help them cope with their mental health, such as depression, and may choose drugs that reduce specific symptoms.
The Link Between Self-Medication and Addiction
When a person relies on an addictive substance to manage their mental health symptoms, consistent use can lead to abuse and addiction. Over time, use can lead to tolerance, which means the person needs more to achieve the same effects. Ongoing use can also lead to dependence. This occurs when a person’s brain and body have adjusted to continuous use, causing withdrawal effects when the substance is quickly taken away. Further, individuals can develop behavioral signs of addiction, such as spending more time on drug use or drinking, and less time on loved ones, hobbies, and responsibilities.
The following are six signs you or your loved one may be self-medicating:
1. Experiencing Problems Continuing to Grow
A sign of self-medicating behavior is when mental health problems don’t go away, and may actually increase. Drugs and alcohol may dull the intensity, provide a momentary escape, or subdue symptoms, but they can also worsen mental health disorders, such as depression. This is especially the case if the person develops an addiction, which can lead to a difficult cycle of the addiction worsening the mental health disorder and the mental health disorder worsening the addiction.
2. Turning to Drugs or Alcohol to “Soothe” Anxiety or Depression
You may be self-medicating if you’re looking for substances to help with your emotions. For example, maybe you use drugs or alcohol so you feel comfortable enough speaking in front of an audience, attending a party, or participating in a meeting. You may feel like you need the substances to get through an uncomfortable situation.
3. Avoiding Family, Friends, Social Activities, and Other Events
When you begin avoiding close family and friends, people, and activities you used to spend more time on. You could be turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy instead of turning to more healthy methods of coping like talking to others and engaging in sober de-stressing activities.
4. Having Difficulties at Work or School
You may find that you’re having trouble keeping up with your responsibilities at school or work as you are focusing more on substance use. Maybe you’re struggling with the workload and are missing time. If this pattern continues, it could lead to dropping out of school or losing your job.
5. Your Loved Ones Are Concerned About Your Substance Use
If your family, friends, and colleagues have asked about your substance use or mention problematic behaviors like missing work, this is another sign that drug use has gotten out of control. When your behaviors have become noticeable to others around you, this indicates you may be relying on the substance and changing from how you were previously.
6. You Experience Changes to Your Mood and Health
You turned to the substance to help you with your mental health problems, but since then, have you noticed your mood and health worsen? The substance use could actually be making the problem worse and causing new health problems.
What To Do If You’re Self-Medicating
If self-medicating has turned into a substance abuse disorder, you may have a dual diagnosis. This means you have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder, which can contribute to each other. At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, we provide treatment for substance abuse and dual diagnosis. It’s important to have specialty treatment to address both disorders at the same time.
Contact our admissions team to learn more about self-medicating, dual diagnosis, and how we can help you or your loved one overcome addiction.