When we feel upset, whether it is due to stress, sadness or a difficult chapter in our lives, we might go searching for a way to relieve feelings of distress. The ups and downs of daily life may overwhelm our ability to cope, which is one reason why someone might turn to a substance — to help “take the edge off.”
Anyone may turn to substances to self-medicate difficult emotions. Such behavior is not limited to those with a diagnosed disorder like depression or anxiety. Chronic stress is also a very common reason for using substances as a coping mechanism. Whatever the reason behind it, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is a maladaptive coping behavior that can possibly result in a substance use disorder.
So, what does self-medicating entail?
What is self-medicating?
Self-medicating is the term used to describe the use of drugs or alcohol with the purpose of providing temporary relief for physical or mental symptoms. When the substance use becomes habitual, the chance of developing a substance use disorder increases. This is obviously worth avoiding.
But how can you tell if you’re on this slippery slope?
What are the signs of self-medicating with drugs or alcohol?
It may be difficult to even be aware that you or a loved one, may be using a substance for the purpose of relieving a mental or emotional strain. Reaching for a drink to help calm frayed nerves may seem like a harmless remedy at the time. Maybe you are experiencing grief after the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship, and drugs or alcohol help to numb the emotional pain.But with continued use, certain signs begin to point toward a possible substance problem.
Here are a few common signs that you or someone you care about is using a substance as a means of coping:
- Withdrawing socially: Avoiding friends and family members, skipping social events and isolating.
- Mood swings: Sudden shifts between mood states, irritability and general moodiness.
- Neglecting appearance: Exhibiting a lack of attention to personal hygiene or appearance.
- Ignoring obligations: Stops taking care of usual responsibilities or obligations, excessive work absences.
- Secretive behaviors. Hiding substances around the house, withholding information, hanging out with different groups of people.
In addition to these telltale signs of substance use, if the person begins to exhibit withdrawal symptoms, appearing sick or unwell on a regular basis, it could indicate substance dependence or addiction.
But what can you do to get back on track?
Try to replace the role of the substance with alternative techniques.
Healthy coping techniques
If you find yourself falling into a pattern self-medicating, try these health coping techniques to help you better manage your feelings and symptoms:
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness helps us pay heed to the senses; the things we see, smell, taste, hear and feel in the present moment.
- Improve your sleep: Improve your mood, focus, and energy by getting good quality sleep, at least seven hours nightly.
- Spend time outside: One of the best things you can do for your mood is to go outside and breathe some fresh air.
- Set fitness goals: A great way to decrease anxiety and depression is by getting regular exercise, as it helps produce feel-good brain chemicals (endorphins).
- Find a new hobby: Keep yourself engaged by finding a new hobby or activity. Focusing your attention and energy on something new and interesting can improve your mood.
Self-medicating with a substance isn’t the only way to cope when you are feeling low or stressed out. If you find yourself relying on substances, it’s important to seek treatment to help you find better and healthier coping mechanisms.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.