Self-medicating is the term used to describe our use of addictive substances and behaviors to relieve our mental and emotional pain. Rather than actual medication or natural remedies that would help us to heal, we’re relying on toxic substances and harmful behaviors that mask the pain.
Understanding the Concept of Self-Medicating
Self-medication is defined as the use of drugs or alcohol to treat mental, physical, and emotional problems. People who self-medicate may be using substances in an attempt to:
- Feel better about themselves
- Ease pain and suffering
- Make life seem more tolerable
The reasons why people self-medicate are linked both psychologically and physiologically to the effects that certain chemicals have on the brain.
Depression and low self-esteem people who are depressed may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with their feelings. When they are intoxicated, they feel less isolated and morose. They experience relief from negative thoughts and self-loathing which can become overwhelming. However, the relief they feel is only temporary and self-esteem remains low.
We are numbing ourselves from the thoughts and feelings we’re afraid to face. We’re distracting ourselves from the healing work we need to do to move past the fears and wounds keeping us stuck in our lives. We become so dependent on our drugs of choice that we start to feel as though we can’t live without them.
We use avoidance, denial and escapism to cover up just how problematic our addictions have become. Our main goal becomes to perpetuate our addictions at all costs. We prioritize our drug of choice over everything else in our lives: our well-being, our sense of self, our obligations, even our loved ones. We are continually causing ourselves more pain and then self-medicating to try to cope with the multiple layers of issues that have accumulated.
Reasons Why People Self-Medicate
One reason why self-medicating is so problematic is because when we’re avoiding the severity of our issues, we’re actually prolonging our distress. We’re never facing our core issues and getting to the root of why we’re in pain. Our wounds go unhealed, and our problems fester, getting gradually worse over time.
Before we know it, we’ve become totally overwhelmed by our issues. Our addictions overpower us. We lose sight of what’s important in life, and our drugs of choice become our obsession. We’re not living healthy, fulfilling lives. We become increasingly sad and afraid. We lose hope and give up on ourselves. All the while, we’re still self-medicating to avoid these difficult truths.
Another reason self-medicating is so harmful is that we’re often covering up acute mental illnesses. Our depression, anxiety and other mental health issues often go undiagnosed and untreated, putting us in danger of harming ourselves or other people. We’re not mentally or emotionally stable or secure, and our lives can begin to unravel as a result. Our health deteriorates and we may experience one or more of the following:
- Drastic depressive episodes
- Worsening health outcomes
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Compulsive urges to end our suffering through self-harm or even death.
Self-medicating keeps us from healing on a fundamental level. The more we self-medicate and numb ourselves from our pain, the more we prolong our suffering and postpone the very important recovery work we need to do in order to be happy and healthy.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
We Can Help
You might feel alone in your struggles. Bayview Recovery is here to provide you with the supportive, caring community you need to focus on your recovery and not feel so isolated and alone as you’re doing the work. Call 855.478.3650 for more information.