Why Do People Self-Medicate?

Some people self-medicate with cigarettes.
Some pain sufferers turn to heroin for relief.
Someone dealing with anxiety following a traumatic natural disaster may choose to self-medicate.
People self-medicate with both legal and illegal drugs.
People may use alcohol, a depressant, to self-medicate.
Marijuana and alcohol create feelings of relaxation.
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  • Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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A person who is living with a mental illness may self-medicate as a way to cope with his or her symptoms. The strategy of using drugs or other substances for self-soothing may also be used by individuals who have experienced a traumatic event or who are living with PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). A number of substances may be used for this purpose, including stimulants, depressants and painkillers. Some people also turn to marijuana when attempting to self-medicate.

Stimulants include street drugs like crack and cocaine. Nicotine, caffeine and amphetamines, or "uppers," also belong to this category. All of them give the user a feeling of well-being or even euphoria when ingested. The search to re-experience the "high" is what makes someone want to repeat the experience.

In the case of someone who is looking to self-medicate, turning to a stimulant may be a way to deal with symptoms of depression. An individual who is living with feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness may not realize that he or she is depressed and that effective treatments are available by consulting with a health care professional. Stimulants may also be used by individuals with low self-esteem who are looking to feel better about themselves.

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Depressants, such as alcohol and some prescription drugs, are the choice for a person looking to self-medicate their feelings of anxiety. Ingesting them creates a feeling of relaxation. Using alcohol lowers inhibitions, and this drug may be chosen by people who are unable to express emotions or closeness easily.

Painkillers, such as heroin and morphine, are effective at managing pain. These drugs also give the user an initial feeling of euphoria that develops into a state of deep relaxation. A person who is either anxious or depressed may be drawn to self-medicate using a strong painkilling medication. This may also be the drug that an individual with anger issues turns to.

Marijuana is a common drug used by people who are attempting to self-medicate. It's relatively inexpensive and readily available on the street. People who are feeling stressed or anxious and looking for a way to feel calmer may choose this drug for its sedative qualities.

Choosing to self-medicate is not the best choice for people living with a mental illness or suffering the effects of PTSD. At best, these remedies only mask the symptoms of the disorder or condition. These substances have the potential to change brain chemistry, which only makes dealing with the underlying issue more challenging.

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Speechie
Post 16

I have a brother who took LCD in high school. I am sure part of it was just to be doing what others were doing, but probably part of it was to self-medicate also. In high school, it seems like everything is the end of the world, so it makes sense why so many teens turn to drugs and alcohol to feel okay on the inside for a while.

With most people in high school, you experiment a little, or even maybe a lot, and you look back at those times as "fun", “good” times because you got to forget about reality for a few hours, with not much consequences. At least not many short-term consequences.

Unfortunately for my brother, the first time he tripped off of LCD, was when he totally lost touch with reality, the last time he was fully himself. What started out as just a way to cope with the problems of teen years and to fit in, made him not be able to cope with anything anymore. Because of self-medicating, my brother may not ever be the same mostly happy person that he was.

My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and severe depression a while after this happened. Now those are severe and tragic consequences, but people have had worse consequences, like even death.

If you need help, please ask for help. If no one will help you, please seek the help of professionals, someone should be helpful and caring enough to help you.

Whatever you do, please do not turn to drugs or alcohol to try to “fix” your problem, it could permanently change you for the worse. Please also don’t take drugs and alcohol to fit in, one day you will realize how unbelievably cool it truly was/is to be yourself and to not use drugs and alcohol at all.

Tomislav
Post 15

I am lucky that I have a family who care/cared about me enough to help me get help when I needed it. I couldn't eat, sleep, do anything without having anxiety and worrying all the time.

With my families help, I was able to stay with them while I went to therapy and they figured out what was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and after trying pills that didn't really help much, I was finally prescribed a pill that did.

Now this prescribed pill, Prozac, seems to do everything alcohol would do for me, without the negative side effects. Also, my prescribed pills, along with therapy every week, seem to really be balancing my brain chemistry, and making a real positive impact on my health.

Speaking from experience, you can get help for nearly free or even free, in some instances, you should try this if you can not afford to pay for a therapist on your own. The rewards of getting real, lasting help far outweigh any downfalls you may be thinking of. There is a permanent reward in getting professional help, while only a temporary help in self-medicating.

aLFredo
Post 14

People self-medicate for many reasons. One reason that I know, from personal experience, is to temporarily be able to deal with the world and somewhat silence your problems for even a few minutes sometimes seems worth the bad/worse feeling you feel after one drinks and/or uses drugs not prescribed to them.

Luckily, I have a pretty non-addictive personality, so I can drink one day and then go months without drinking again. I know it really isn't good to drink much at all, but when you have issues that bother you every moment of every day, most will do anything to escape the mayhem if only for a few minutes or few hours.

Our society is all about the "quick fix", not the best/real fix, so turning to drugs and alcohol and other things to self-medicate really makes a lot of sense in this culture.

If you have not ever had any severe problems, it can be easy to judge others, but once you go through a tough time all the people you may have judged for how they dealt with their problems don’t seem as “crazy” or “reckless” anymore. What once seemed irrational, suddenly seems rational.

shell4life
Post 13

I think that so many people self-medicate with alcohol just to be able to deal with their mundane lives. People go to the same job every day for years, come home every night, and have to go to sleep early to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Once you realize that this is the path your life is taking, you can easily become depressed over it. Just about all of my friends who work 8 to 5 at jobs they merely tolerate come home and have a few drinks every night.

When you get in the swing of things, it can be hard to relax. Alcohol helps you unwind after a stressful day, and it can even help you sleep.

Alcohol is one of the few legal substances you can use to self-medicate. It can easily result in alcoholism, but if you keep your drinking down to one or two glasses of red wine a day, it can actually benefit your heart and mind. I like to feel relaxed but not drunk, so it's easy for me to stop after one full glass.

OeKc05
Post 12

I have a friend who tried LSD to escape from reality. He absolutely hated his life, and he had become suicidal. The drug let him see everything in a whole new light.

He described the way it had transformed reality for him. He said that everything lost its shape and seemed stretched or scrunched up. Beautiful things looked so much more lovely, and ugly things were unbearably hideous.

He had a few good trips to this alternate reality, but once he had a bad one, he landed in the mental institution. He told me that he still has nightmares about seeing his face melt off and attending his own funeral.

Through therapy, he learned how to cope with his disdain for all things realistic. Today, he says he would rather die than be forced to take another hallucinogenic drug. He has learned to appreciate the normalcy of real life.

kylee07drg
Post 11

@orangey03 – I agree with you. Pills are not the answer. Having said that, I will admit that I used them to deal with extreme sadness. I no longer do that, because I fear that I could become dependent on them.

When my fiancee broke my heart, the pain went so deep that I could physically feel it in my chest. Nothing could make it go away, and I had to feel better. I got a pain pill from a friend, and suddenly, I was alright.

It made me very talkative. I called up everyone I knew and just chatted about everything and nothing. The medication seemed to put my pain to sleep, and I just felt so good inside.

When it wore off, I felt even worse than I had the day before. I wanted another pill so badly, but I fought against it. I knew that in my vulnerable state of mind, I could have become addicted so easily.

orangey03
Post 10

I have dealt with lots of heartbreak and depression in my life, and I fully understand why people self-medicate with painkillers. As soon as they kick in, they make you feel like everything is alright, even if your world is upside-down.

When my close friend died, I couldn't deal with the pain. I took a pill, and even in the midst of my grief, I suddenly felt like it was okay. The pill smoothed over my violent waves of sorrow and calmed the stormy sea of my emotions.

Unlike most people, I didn't become addicted to painkillers. I had a few in a bottle that I had gotten for a legitimate condition, and I only used them when I absolutely could not deal with something. I wouldn't recommend them to anyone, because I know the dangers involved when using them for emotional pain rather than physical.

vogueknit17
Post 9

It is so easy these days to do a self medical diagnosis. The internet is full of symptom lists and warning signs and diet warnings and all sorts of things, and it's no wonder many of us feel like we can figure out what is wrong with us without even asking anyone. It's a dangerous thing, but it's unfortunately also very easy.

elizabeth23
Post 8

@Monika- I agree with you about therapy. I have known a few people who self medicated, and while it often was an issue of cost, either way it didn't work because they didn't deal with deeper issues. The fact is any sort of illness, mental or physical, needs a combination of approaches to really be overcome.

Monika
Post 7

@Azuza - That's a good point. I'm sure a lot of people who self-medicate don't do it just because they don't feel like going to the doctor. Many of them can't afford it, like you said!

And of course self-medicating doesn't really work well in the long run. Most people I know who are on actual medication also go to therapy. I think therapy is a big part in handling things like depression and anxiety, and if you're just on medication, you're only treating it halfway. And this problem is definitely exaggerated if you're self-medicating!

Azuza
Post 6

I think a lot of people self-medicate because they don't have proper access to healthcare. A lot of people in this country don't have insurance, especially service workers.

This is a huge problem I witness when I worked in bars in college. Bars and restaurants don't offer their employees insurance, so most of the people who work there aren't insured. I was in school at the time, so I was lucky enough to get some affordable insurance through my college.

Other people I knew that weren't students weren't so lucky. I had a friend who really struggled with serious anxiety, and she couldn't afford health insurance. She looked into just paying out of pocket to see a psychiatrist, but even the cost for an office visit was prohibitive. So she drank alcohol to deal with her problem instead.

John57
Post 5

There are many reasons why people self-medicate, and until you walk in their shoes or really understand their situation, it can be easy to be judgmental.

I am not saying this makes it right, but there are usually tragic or traumatic situations that lead someone to self-medicate.

My brother-in-law was self-medicating with alcohol for many years and he was never able to quit using alcohol. He was also never open to talking about the reasons behind this self destructive behavior.

It was so sad to see him live his life this way, but because he never got any help, he continued in this downward spiral for the rest of his life.

oasis11
Post 4

@BrickBack - People do the same thing with alcohol and drugs. It offers a temporary escape of their problems but what they don’t realize is that their life will spiral out of control if they are not careful.

Alcohol is also a depressant and severe drinking can lead to liver damage as well as alcoholism. I think that it is really hard to function in life if you are an alcoholic because of all of the destruction that this condition causes the person that is afflicted and those around them.

I think that many teenagers that are depressed often turn to drugs or alcohol because they were able to escape the problems for that moment. It is really sad that some people feel this is their only way to cope with a problem.

BrickBack
Post 3

@Sneakers41- You know that a lot of people are self medicating with food. I know that sometimes if I am feeling a little sad or depressed, I will eat some ice cream or crave something sweet. The thing is when anybody self medicates this way too often they tend to develop even more problems than they originally had.

People that are emotional eaters tend to be overweight and if they don’t control the urges and talk about their feelings and substitute the eating with something else they may also develop other health problems like diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

Overeating is really a form of self medicating depression but the feeling that the food gives you is very temporary and then you become worse off than before. Treating a problem like this requires talking to someone because once you find what is really bothering you and deal with that effectively you will also be able to lose weight and live a healthier and happier life.

I think that this is why people that have a lot of weight to lose fail so often because if the situation were as simple as eating the right foods and exercising, no one would have a weight problem. I think that being overweight or even obese is often more complicated than that.

sneakers41
Post 2

@Sunshine31 - Wow that must be awful. I think that anytime you play around with medication especially prescription medication you are bound to cause irreparable damage to your organs and your overall biochemistry.

People need to take the time to see a doctor especially if they are depressed. Depression can be caused by so many things and a doctor and a therapist might be the best people to help in that situation.

Medication alone can’t help depression because a depressed person also needs cognitive or group therapy to get better. If a pill could solve everyone’s problem than no one would ever be depressed.

I think that this common misconception about depression. Each person that is depressed may need different things which are why they need to see the right professionals that can offer a comprehensive approach to their problems.

Maybe talking to someone might be more effective than a ton of medication. Depression is not something that you can treat by yourself.

sunshine31
Post 1

I think that sometimes people offer a medical self diagnosis because they are afraid of going to the doctor and really don’t want to face their real problems.

This can be really dangerous because a person could have a serious problem that could be fixed with a doctor’s help but their refusal to see a doctor can create more problems.

I was watching a television program the other day that dealt with people that had severe insomnia. Several of the participants on the show were medicating themselves with dangerous dosages of sleep medication.

One lady was taking twelve over the counter sleep medications to go to sleep. She later went on to chewing the pills so it would enter her system even faster. Another lady was taking a combination of prescription medication that was often four to five times the normal dosages.

She was also taking very high dosages of melatonin which they said on the show was very dangerous. As a result, the lady still had problems going to sleep and because of the high dosages of melatonin, she started to have severe nightmares which would further disrupt her sleep according to the doctor.

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