Sadly, self-medication is a common part of American life. This is due to the fact that we’ve been conditioned to find quick and easy answers for almost anything else. So why can’t we just get quick and easy relief by taking a pill or drinking a glass of wine? While it may seem like a sufficient fix, it can actually lead to many more symptoms and complications later on.
Self-medication is a growing problem. It’s been reported that people will commonly use both legal and illegal substances in an effort to detail with mental health issues or stress. But self-medication can lead to enhanced symptoms of mental health disorders and even cause substance dependence. Getting the appropriate help necessary to cope with mental health concerns is crucial in adequately treating and overcoming symptoms.
What is Self-Medication?
Self-medicating is the process by which an individual (or their friend or family member) determines which substances they should use in a medicinal manner to treat a set of self-diagnosed symptoms or issues. In this scenario, the individual is not a doctor (and if suggested by a friend or family member, they are not a doctor either).
In some cases, self-medication is not a bad thing. If you have a headache it’s not uncommon to take Advil or Tylenol for relief. These situations do require a medical diagnosis. This can be true for several minor ailments. However, when dealing with situations of extreme stress, unmanageable mood swings, or other extreme symptoms, you should be seeking professional advice. Self-medication can lead to taking many unnecessary risks.
Types of Self-Medication
Each medication has its own unique benefits and risks. Some are available over the counter, while some are only available through a doctor’s prescription. Regardless of which is being consumed, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of both benefits and risks.
For example, Tylenol is a medication that is often used for mild pain relief associated with headaches and muscle aches. Taking Tylenol is typically pretty safe, but if you are taking more than the recommended 4,000 mg a day you can risk liver damage. It’s also not recommended to take if you’re drinking alcohol because the risk for liver damage increases greatly.
While taking drugs or alcohol may offer some relief initially, it’s important to remember that these wear off. You’re not actually fixing the problem, you’re masking it. These can lead to more intense symptoms later if you don’t work to fix the issue. In order to do that effectively, you’ll need a medical diagnosis.
People might do this if they think the symptoms are minor enough, or if they don’t think it’s important enough to go see a doctor. However, you may be masking an undiagnosed condition that actually requires more medical assistance. Without getting the help you need you can start to see symptoms worsen and potential complications develop later.
Medication that has expired can be ineffective, or even worse, it can cause adverse reactions in your body. As medication ages, the chemical makeup can change causing it to become hazardous. You should always check the expiration date before taking any medication and make sure you’re using the right dosage for your condition. This is extremely dangerous and not recommended.
If you are self-medicating, it can be difficult to monitor the dosage accurately. Taking incorrect doses can lead to a range of health complications such as organ damage and heart problems. It is important that you are aware of your body’s needs when taking any form of medication and only take what has been recommended by a doctor or pharmacist.
This is especially true as it pertains to prescribed medications. These are much stronger than over-the-counter drugs and cause a larger range of issues including accidental overdose.
Taking antibiotics when not needed can lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, which are very hard to treat once they spread and can make you much more ill than before. This leads to a cycle of needing stronger and stronger doses of antibiotics to defeat the illness. This sort of chronic antibiotic use will make it harder for your body to defeat bacterial infections which can ultimately lead to serious medical complications. Antibiotics should only be taken if prescribed by a doctor.
The dangers of self-medication cannot be understated: taking medications without consulting a doctor can lead to serious health complications and even death in some cases.
What are the Risks of Self-Medication?
There are many issues that can occur as a result of self-medicating. Ultimately, they all lead to poor physical or mental health.
Taking the wrong medication, or the wrong amount can lead to worsening symptoms or even creating new symptoms like vomiting, high blood pressure, or even convulsions. Simply put, you put yourself at risk for medical complications by self-medicating.
Taking medication to help alleviate symptoms can offer some relief initially but you could be masking a more severe diagnosis that requires more medical treatment. This will only lead to symptoms becoming unmanageable or could even cause you to develop other conditions as a result.
If you take one or more substances to self-medicate a set of symptoms you could be risking a serious drug interaction. This is true even with over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements. A doctor will be able to review the medications you’re taking and make sure you’re not risking any serious drug interactions.
Taking a substance for an extended period of time can ultimately lead to addiction. Your body will become used to the substance and therefore will need it to operate normally. Subsequently, you’ll become programmed to take the substance whenever your symptoms start. You’ll also need more and more of the substance to find relief. This cycle is how addiction occurs.
All of these can lead to long-term complications that can make your symptoms and medical conditions much worse. In addition, to what it this can do to your health, your work and family relationships may also suffer.
What are the Signs of Self-Medication?
The signs of self-medication vary from person to person, but some common symptoms include:
- Taking a medication more often or in larger doses than prescribed
- Visiting multiple doctors for the same medical concern
- Seeking drugs from nonmedical sources
- Reaching for drugs or alcohol in order to cope with stress or anxiety
- You’re sleeping much more or much less than normal
- Needing more and more of the substance in order to get relief
- Your energy levels are not where they used to be
- You find you’re getting sick much more often than you should
Self-medicating leads to a dangerous cycle of drug-seeking behavior. It also leaves a serious impact on your physical and mental health. All of this can lead to serious strain on your relationships and day-to-day life. If you’re suffering from a medical condition, you should speak to a doctor to get the relief you need. A medical professional can provide you medication necessary to help you overcome your symptoms and make sure you’re safe.
How Self-Medication Leads to Co-Occurring Disorders
People self-medicate for a variety of reasons, but the most common reason is to manage stress or emotional distress. Those who are struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. Unfortunately, this only leads to more problems and can cause co-occurring disorders. Substance use disorder and mental health disorders go hand in hand when it comes to self-medication.
Common Substances Used to Self-Medicate
People use a variety of medications to sefl-medicate including prescription medications and those found over-the-counter. It’s important to remember that just because you can purchase a substance without a prescription doesn’t mean it’s always safe.
Alcohol is a depressant and can make people feel “calm” in the short term, but often leads to worsened mental health conditions down the line. Alcohol use can also lead to diseases, cognitive decline, organ failure, and alcohol addiction. This makes alcohol a less-than-ideal way to deal with stress, anxiety, or any other mental conditions.
Marijuana is another substance that may be used to self-medicate. In some instances, it does help people with depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions. However, studies have shown that marijuana can lead to worsened symptoms in the long run, as well as dependence and addiction if misused.
The most common medications that people tend to misuse are painkillers such as opioids, benzodiazepines, or muscle relaxants. These drugs are often used to provide relief from physical discomfort or emotional distress, but they can be highly addictive and dangerous if not taken properly under the supervision of a physician. In addition to the dangers associated with self-medicating, misuse of these drugs can also lead to serious side effects and even death.
How to Help a Loved One Who is Self-Medicating
The first step is being able to recognize their substance abuse for what it is, a problem. Once you are able to do that you can begin to help them understand why they are self-medicating. You’re not going to be able to force them to get the help they need but there are steps you can take to be as successful as possible.
- Talk to your friend or loved one. When you have the opportunity, when you’re both sober, reach out and try to understand what is going on. Allow them to openly discuss what’s going on and why they have been choosing to self-medicate. Ask questions but don’t be judgemental. This is their opportunity to speak on their struggles.
- Learn more about your loved one’s condition. Take some time to do your own research about what might be going on with your friend or loved one. Remember, you shouldn’t be trying to diagnose their condition alone, but rather becoming informed to help them make better decisions.
- Encourage them to seek help. You don’t need to suggest that they need serious medical treatment but rather start with something small like getting a physical. Getting the individual in front of a doctor may shine a light on their conditions and be the first step in getting them the proper help.
- Set limitations on support. Don’t let the situation overwhelm you and don’t continue to allow your friend or loved one to engage in substance abuse around you. Let them know that you are willing to help, but you want to see them take steps to better themself.
Get Help Today for Self-Medication!
Chapters Recovery offers treatment programs to help those who are misusing medications. Our programs focus on addressing the underlying issues that led to self-medication in the first place. We provide evidence-based programs for individuals abusing prescribed and unprescribed medications. We also provide support for family members of someone who is struggling with self-medicating, helping them understand the dangers of misusing medication and how they can help their loved one get back on track.
By providing a safe and supportive environment, we will work together to create an individualized treatment plan tailored to each person’s needs. With our expertise, we can help your loved one regain control over their life and lead a healthier lifestyle free from substance misuse. Contact us today!