Social pressures, longing to escape reality, reactions to stress, trying to forget a recent trauma, and even curiosity, can all be reasons why people turn to drugs or alcohol. Some may also be trying to manage the side effects of other drugs or medication that their doctor has prescribed them or trying to reduce the symptoms of a mental illness.
When the term ‘self-medicating’ is used, it refers specifically to drugs or alcohol being misused to try and mask the symptoms of a mental health condition, and this can be dangerous if left unchecked. If you’re worried that you, or someone you know, may be self-medicating, then here are a few important things to be aware of:
What happens to our brains when we self-medicate?
Several changes can occur in the brain when a person uses drugs or drinks alcohol, and the neurotransmitters that enhance the feeling of pleasure may become heightened. The person may find themselves experiencing a temporary sensation of being removed from reality, and for someone suffering from a mental illness, this can be an extremely desirable state of mind.
If self-medicating continues, however, the chemistry in the brain associated with regulating emotions, motivations, pleasures and reward-processing, can alter as the substance dependency deepens. If a full dependency forms, the brain may stop functioning as it previously did altogether, paving the way for a chemical imbalance when the substances begin to wear off or are removed.
When this occurs, the symptoms of the mental illness may become much worse and the individuals stress levels may soar to a wholly unmanageable degree. Stopping the misuse of many substances can be particularly dangerous if you don’t seek medical help.
Self-medicating can also interfere with prescribed treatments and medications for mental or physical ailments, too, and when combined, the side effects of the abused substances and the symptoms of any co-occurring disorder may be increased.
What is a co-occurring disorder?
A co-occurring disorder refers to when a person is struggling to cope with more than disorder at the same time, and the best way to tackle this is thought to be through an integrated model that can effectively manage both sets of symptoms at the same time.
Treating the problem of self-medication:
Most people who self-medicate have an underlying medical or mental health concern, meaning that integrated treatments are always going to be the most effective, since they combine medications with therapeutic methods of treatment. The medication is given to stabilize the person, while the therapy helps them to understand any potential triggers for self-medicating and teaches them how to manage them in the future. Some of the therapeutic methods center around behavior and attempt to teach the individual new life and communication skills along with stress management techniques.
Only when then the sufferer begins to understand the reasons why they self-medicate, can they ever begin to learn new and healthier ways of managing their stressors and begin to lead a more fulfilled life. Recovery can certainly be sustainable, and seeking professional help a very helpful step to getting there.
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