Self Medication and Addiction

Self Medication

Self Medication Basics

As many as 60 percent of those who struggle with substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental health disorder (e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.). Many of these addicted individuals are not aware that they have a mental health disorder because of their self medication habits. 

Self medication is when an individual has an ailment, whether physiological or psychological, and use substances that are not prescribed by a doctor to cope with the symptoms. For example, a person who suffers from a heroin addiction has a major depressive disorder, but he or she uses heroin to cope with the depression instead of antidepressants that are prescribed a doctor. The reason these people abuse substances instead of taking prescribed medication is they most likely have never consulted a professional about their symptoms due to lack of education about psychological treatment, being unable to access treatment, not seeking treatment due to the stigma, etc. Instead, they started using addictive substances. 

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a disorder characterized by experiencing a traumatic event and involuntarily reliving it through nightmares and flashbacks. The symptoms can present themselves soon after the traumatic event, months, or even years later. This disorder is prevalent among veterans but can be found in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. Alcohol, opioids, and tranquilizers are the common addictive substances among this population.

  • Mood Disorders (e.g. Depression, Anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder)

Mood disorders are often treated by antidepressants for depressive disorders, anti-anxiety medications for anxiety disorders, and drugs that control mania along with antidepressants for bipolar disorders. The onset of these disorders can be brought on by genetics, life events, or both. Talk therapy is often used in combination with medication. However, those who do not seek help may end up abusing alcohol and a variety of other substances to cope with the symptoms.

  • Chronic Pain

Many people who suffer from chronic pain are given prescription painkillers to cope with the pain. Prescription painkillers are highly addictive and cause many people to turn to buying pills or heroin on the streets to obtain more after a prescription has run out or make the expensive habit more affordable. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders must be diagnosed after the suffering party has been detoxed and observed for a period of time while sober. Drugs and Alcohol can cause people to exhibit abnormal behavior and mood patterns. Diagnosing after detox and while sober for a period of time ensures that these abnormal behaviors and mood patterns were not merely attributed to the substance use. Diagnosis can be done in the rehabilitation facility by a licensed therapist, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner.

In cases of a co-occurring disorder with an addictive disorder, both disorders need to be treated together. The co-occurring disorder must be treated with the appropriate prescribed treatment in order to significantly decrease the risk of relapsing since the mental disorder is what was triggering the substance use to begin with. Therapy methods to treat co-occurring and substance use disorders include, but are not limited to, psychotropic medication, talk therapy, holistic therapies, group therapy, and support groups. The right combination of therapies varies for each individual.

Co-occurring disorders with addictive disorders can be treated. Self medication is only a band-aid; a permanent solution to set you free forever is available. There is hope for a new day in recovery. Contact us today to start your journey on the road of recovery.


Wes Cain, LPCA, NCC, IHC



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