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Is Self Medicating a Form of Addiction?
When you suffer from depression or anxiety and end up self-medicating with alcohol, it only makes things worse.
For someone struggling with a mental health issue, alcohol can feel like a godsend. The numbing effects of drinking offer a cheap, accessible means of masking the symptoms of a mental health disorder. This is referred to as self-medicating, and it is very common.
It isn’t hard to see why someone might resort to a substance like alcohol to help them numb their pain. But this coping technique can backfire—badly. Too many people don’t think about the longer-term fallout from drinking and can end up with a serious problem.
If alcoholism takes root, the person not only suffers from the mood disorder but also a co-occurring alcohol use disorder (AUD), too. This is called a dual diagnosis. This only complicates the picture, as now both disorders will have their own set of challenges to overcome.
When someone develops a dual diagnosis they will need specialized treatment that will address and treat both disorders. A dual diagnosis rehab can provide this level of care. These programs help the person learn how to manage the symptoms of both mental health and substance use disorders.
Why Self-Medicating with Alcohol is Risky
When we find ourselves in emotional pain, it is logical we’d want to find some way to soften the anguish. We look for a way out, an escape hatch—anything but to feel the misery we are in. Enter alcohol.
Alcohol has sedating effects. When we drink alcohol we become more relaxed and less inhibited. We might feel a little more self-confident and jolly. It is easy to see why someone in pain might access the help of alcohol to get through a low patch.
The world has had plenty of low patches to get through these past 18 months. The fallout from the pandemic affected many aspects of life, so alcohol use has increased in response. Anxiety and depression rates are on the rise in direct proportion to alcohol sales.
But, the brain’s reward system is powerful. Once the brain records a certain action as pleasant, it sets us up to repeat the event. Ongoing use of alcohol to self-medicate can lead to an alcohol problem, which can result in alcoholism.
One study examined survey results of 34,0000 U.S. adults who were questioned about their use of substances for self-medication. The results confirmed the fact that using substances to mask negative emotions can increase the risk of addiction. The study showed that more than 12% of respondents with anxiety that self-medicated with alcohol develop an AUD.
Using Alcohol for Self-Medicating Depression
People who struggle with depression are quite prone to alcohol abuse. The symptoms of depression include feeling sad and hopeless, fatigue, sleep problems, loss of interest, and suicidal thoughts. Alcoholism and depression are very common dual diagnosis.
Someone hoping to hide from their emotional pain via alcohol may find some temporary relief. The danger is when using alcohol in an ongoing manner, which can increase the risk of alcoholism. When someone has these co-occurring disorders, the risk of suicide is greatly increased.
Using Alcohol for Anxiety
This busy, fast-paced life we lead can leave us feeling anxious or stressed out. Symptoms of anxiety can include a sense of fear or dread, a racing heart, chest tightness, shallow breathing, trembling, and sweating. Being in this mood state can be exhausting and draining.
Turning to alcohol to manage the effects of anxiety is all too common. Sadly, though, drinking only makes the feelings of anxiety worse. This is due to a boomerang effect. That means that when the calming effects of the alcohol wear off, the anxiety seems to be more enhanced.
Using Alcohol for Depression
A mental health challenge can be crippling. It requires expert support, just like any other health problem would. Instead of using alcohol to subdue negative mood states, there is a better way to get relief. When you seek out the help of a mental health provider, they can offer therapy and medications to manage symptoms.
Therapy will be tailored to the exact nature of your mental health issue. For instance, if your anxiety is due to trauma, they will use prolonged exposure therapy, CBT, or EMDR. If you suffer from depression, CBT, DBT, and interpersonal therapy may be applied. Drugs can also help with symptom relief. SSRIs, for one, can help both depression and anxiety.
Healthy Ways to Manage Negative Mood States
There are also many things you can do to enhance the effects of mental health treatment. Most of these involve making changes in lifestyle habits, and can really help improve your mood state without alcohol.
Try building these healthy new habits:
- Practice Mindfulness. Being mindful of our state of mind, without letting it control us, allows us to focus on the present moment. Mindfulness helps us pay heed to the senses; the things we see, smell, taste, hear and feel. This keeps us from having our thoughts distract us from a calm state of being.
- Improve Your Sleep. Nothing makes us feel grumpy like a bad night’s sleep! Improve your mood, focus, and energy by getting better sleep. Try sticking to the same bedtime each day to help set your body clock. Have some chamomile tea and a warm bath and enjoy your slumber.
- Get Outdoors. One of the best things you can do for your mood is just go outside. Fresh air and sunshine will quickly bring a smile to your face. Vitamin D is produced through sun exposure, which can ward off depression.
- Set Fitness Goals. A great way to decrease anxiety and depression is through regular exercise. By setting some fitness goals you divert your thoughts toward something that is good for you. Whether you prefer rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, or running, just set a goal and work on achieving it.
You do not have to resort to self-medicating with alcohol when you are feeling low or stressed out. Learn how to take care of your mental wellness in healthy ways.
Journey Hillside is a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center
If you or a loved one has been self-medicating with alcohol, Journey Hillside is here to help. Our team of experts can help you overcome an AUD and learn how to create a healthy lifestyle. Contact Journey Hillside today at (877) 414-1024