Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Self-Medication and Substance Abuse
There are many theories that attempt to explain why some people abuse alcohol and drugs. This is a negative type of behavior that can cause a lot of damage for the individual as well as society as a whole. If there is a good explanation for why people engage in this behavior it may make it easier to prevent in the future.
There is not yet one theory that that is able to explain the motivations behind every substance abuser, but the different hypothesis can provide a good basis for understanding what is going on. One of the most influential of these is the self-medication theory of substance abuse. This suggests that substance abuse is an attempt by the individual to escape unpleasant symptoms.
Self-medication is where the individual uses self-soothing types of behavior to treat an undiagnosed mental health condition. One behavior that offers a soothing effect is substance abuse. The individual is able to turn to alcohol or drugs to get temporary relief from their problems.
In many cases, the individual won’t even realize that they are dealing with any type of mental health problem. They just know that when they abuse alcohol or drugs they feel better. It could be that they are just dealing with a bit of excess stress or worry. There are far more effective ways to treat these problems but the individual may not realize this. Using addictive substances in the short term can be effective, but it will eventually lead to bigger problems. Abusing prescription medication can also be considered a form of self-medication if the individual is motivated by a desire to escape unpleasant symptoms.
The self-medication theory of addiction suggests that it is this attempt to self-soothe with alcohol and drugs that eventually leads to addiction. Once the individual realizes that these substances give them some relief they can start to abuse them more and more. This eventually leads to a situation where they are both psychologically and physiologically dependent on the substance. They will be unable to imagine life without their chemical crutch, and if they try to quit they will experience withdrawal symptoms.
The self-medication theory of addiction suggests that the individual will be attracted to different substances on the basis of their symptoms:
* People with symptoms of anxiety can be attracted to alcohol or sedative type drugs because they produce feelings of relaxation. This type of drug is also attractive to those who are dealing with depression.
* If people are full of aggression and rage they can be attracted to opiates. This is because such drug can help to stabilize mood.
* Stimulants provide a burst of energy and this makes them attractive to people who are trying to combat depression. Those who suffer from shyness will also get temporary relief from this type of drug.
A dual diagnosis is when an individual is dealing with a mental health problem as well as an addiction. Many addicts also suffer from conditions such as depression, or anxiety. It is suggested that as high as 47% of people who have a mental health condition will abuse alcohol or drugs so it is no surprise that so many of them become addicted. It has also been found that one in five people who are diagnosed with depression will have recently abused alcohol or drugs.
A dual diagnosis can occur in two ways. In many cases the individual will have had a pre-existing mental health condition and will have turned to substance abuse as a means to self-medicate. In other instances the individual can develop a mental health condition because of the substance abuse. These people can also self-medicate as they take more of the substance in order to deal with the unpleasant symptoms.
While self-medication may bring some short-term relief the long-term consequences can be devastating. The dangers include:
* Self-medication can lead to addiction. When this happens the individual will have more problems and stress in their life. An addiction can rob the individual of everything they have before killing them.
* Once a dual-diagnosis is established it becomes difficult to treat either condition. The treatment for mental illnesses may be rendered ineffective while the individual continues to abuse substances. There can even be dangerous side-effects of mixing prescribed medication with drugs or alcohol. Giving up an addiction can be much harder if the individual has a mental health problem. This is why it is advisable that both conditions are treated together.
* Drugs like alcohol and barbiturates are depressants. This means that they can make the symptoms of depression a lot worse.
* Substance abuse increases the risk of suicide.
* Addiction masks the symptoms of mental illness. This means that the individual will have a condition that hasn’t been diagnosed and therefore can’t be treated. So long as people self-medicate it is not possible to deal with the real cause of the problem.
It is tempting to explain all addictive behavior as due to an attempt to self-medicate. This might be too simplistic a theory because there appears to be many other reasons why people will abuse alcohol and drugs. Those who grow up in a home where substance abuse is considered normal seem more likely to become involved in the same behavior. There is also evidence that suggests that genetics plays a large part in addiction as well.
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