The Dangers of Self-Medicating

Self-medicating is a typical practice nowadays. Individuals often turn to substance use to cope with life stressors despite their awareness of the potential consequences. While there are many dangers of self-medication, the major one you may expect is the development of addiction. The more we use drugs or alcohol, the more the body requires it. If your journey with self-medicating has led to a substance use disorder (SUD), consider treatment immediately.

Causes of Self-Medicating

People may start self-medicating for a variety of reasons. These can include but are not limited to trauma, mental illness, and chronic illnesses. Let’s explore these causes further.


While there are many reasons individuals start self-medicating, trauma is a typical instigator. Trauma occurs throughout life, but traumatic events during adolescents can lead to substance use.

A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine showcases the connection between early exposure to traumatic events and intoxication through substance use. Researchers examined self-medication among youths in residential treatment for “antisocial behavior via recursive and non-recursive relationships between trauma history, substance misuse, and psychological distress.”

The study focuses on two hypotheses:

#1. The effects of trauma are somewhat “mediated by substance misuse.”

#2. The experience of trauma causes “a feedback loop between substance misuse and psychological distress.”

At the end of their study, the research supported these hypotheses. With this in mind, it’s reasonable to say that trauma likely creates a cycle of emotional distress and substance consumption.

Mental Illness

Trauma is not the only cause of substance use or the only reason people turn to self-medication. Many self-medicate to cope with mental illness symptoms. In fact, results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that 9.5 million people in the United States were diagnosed with a mental illness and SUD. From this, we can infer that untreated mental illness may be a leading cause of self-medication.

Chronic Illness

Trauma and mental illness are not the only potential instigators of substance use. Other chronic conditions may lead to self-medication. Individuals diagnosed with chronic pain, cancer, or any other chronic illness may turn to substance use to cope with symptoms. Additionally, they may want to numb complex feelings surrounding their diagnosis.

Forms of Self-Medicating

One of the most common ways people self-medicate is with alcohol. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is prevalent across the United States. People drink to escape their problems, have a good time, be more social, and ultimately inebriate themselves. Especially when trying to avoid stress, alcohol helps people temporarily forget their problems.

Drug use is another form of self-medication. Substances, like drugs, impact the reward circuit of the brain. This causes a euphoric effect which only perpetuates further drug use. People begin drug use for similar reasons — escape problems, inebriate themselves, or experience euphoric effects. There are a number of known dangers to drug use, including dependency, overdose, and death though.

Dangers of Self-Medicating

One of the main dangers of self-medicating is the development of SUD. With SUD, there are several short- and long-term effects, as well as the potential development of chronic health conditions and overdose.

Drinking causes several risks. Excessive drinking can lead to the following:

  • Violence
  • Risky behaviors like unprotected sex and drunk driving
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Chronic conditions like heart or liver disease, a weakened immune system, or cancers

There are several potential risks of excessive drug use due to the number of drugs available. However, many dangers are similar to excessive drinking – chronic health conditions, drug overdose, impaired cognitive function, and death.

Another danger of self-medicating is that it does not resolve the underlying problem. Mental illness, trauma, and other distressing events have a profound impact on our overall well-being. Substance use only numbs us to pain and causes an uproar of future problems.

Treatment for Self-Medicating

If you are self-medicating to cope with a deeper problem, we encourage you to educate yourself further on the dangers of self-medicating. As discussed, it can lead to addiction and many other damages. Psychoeducation is the first step. It often helps a person understand the need for treatment.

Dual-diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders is the next step. A mental illness and SUD experienced in conjunction with one another are referred to as co-occurring disorders. It is usually hard to indicate which was present first In either case, dual diagnosis is required, and individuals must seek treatment for all conditions involved.

An integrated dual-diagnosis program offers many benefits. Individuals can begin to understand the relationship between these two disorders. Additionally, they learn coping skills to manage both and engage in treatments that help them heal and maintain recovery.

Lastly, you should find a support system. This can look like a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. It can also mean reconnecting with friends and family. Moreover, it can involve leaning on others in your treatment program. The support system will ensure you have help building long-term recovery.

Do you drink or use drugs in order to deal with stress, block out traumatic memories, or cope with emotionally volatile situations? If so, we encourage you to educate yourself on the dangers and potential harm of self-medicating. Substance use can lead to addiction, chronic health conditions, and a number of other problems. To truly recover from trauma and mental illness, you must seek treatment. Excel treatment center offers comprehensive treatment to those struggling with addiction and mental illness. We provide a dual diagnosis program led by our expert staff. During your program, you might participate in traditional therapies, support groups, and holistic therapies. With our help, you can cease all self-medication. For help, call us at (833) 883-9235

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