What is Self-Medicating and Why Do People Do It? by Rehab Recovery Centers

Stress, pain, and discomfort are a part of everyday life. We encounter various challenges we can easily manage with healthy coping skills every day. When stuck in traffic, you may take deep breaths or distract yourself by listening to the radio. If you are upset about something at work, you may vent to a coworker or take a walk on your lunch break.

But sometimes, a person’s stress or pain may overcome their ability to cope. If people do not have adequate skills to manage their physical or emotional discomfort, they may turn to any means necessary to escape it. For some, this means abusing drugs or alcohol.

When someone uses drugs or alcohol to manage emotional stress, trauma, pain, or mental illness, it is called self-medicating. Self-medicating depression or other forms of mental illness can lead to serious consequences to your health and wellbeing, including developing an addiction.

If you or someone you love self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, you must seek treatment to help you manage your substance abuse. Reach out to the Rehab Recovery Centers specialists today.

Understanding Self-Medicating

When a person’s stress levels overwhelm their ability to cope, they may turn to any means necessary to escape. For some, this means using drugs or alcohol to numb emotional pain or escape from stress.

People use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate because many substances cause effects that can temporarily dull uncomfortable emotions. Drugs and alcohol may be easy to get and can work quickly when people are desperate to escape.

But over time, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol can lead to a life-altering–or life-threatening–addiction. An addiction can wreak havoc on a person’s mental and physical health, strain relationships, and result in legal or financial trouble that follows them for years.

Self-medicating depression and other mental illnesses can cause more significant problems. Without addressing and treating the symptoms of a mental illness, the condition is likely to worsen. People with both an addiction and depression may get caught in a cycle–their mental illness prevents them from seeking addiction treatment, and their addiction worsens the symptoms of their depression.

If you are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, you must recognize the symptoms of depression and seek treatment for both conditions.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a serious and common mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, about 21 million adults in the United States have experienced a period of major depression. This represents about 8% of the adult population.[1]

Depression is different than simply feeling sad. It involves a range of symptoms that can disrupt your life and make it difficult to function. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, down, or hopeless–sometimes without a clear cause
  • Loneliness, even when with others
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Anger, anxiety, or irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Thoughts about dying
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Depression is a serious medical condition that can be treated effectively with medications, therapy, and other treatments. Self-medicating depression can worsen your symptoms and make you more likely to develop an addiction.

Am I Self-Medicating?

At times, it may be difficult to determine when your substance use has become problematic–including when you are self-medicating. It is crucial for you to recognize the signs that you are self-medicating and seek substance abuse treatment, if necessary.

Some signs that you are self-medicating include:

  • Thinking you must use drugs or alcohol to manage discomfort–that nothing else can work
  • Believing you cannot function in social situations without using drugs or alcohol
  • Feeling unable to use healthy coping skills
  • Not talking to a medical or mental health professional about your pain or mental health symptoms–going straight to drugs or alcohol instead

If you use drugs or alcohol to dull physical pain, trauma, or the symptoms of a mental illness, you are likely self-medicating.

What Are the Dangers of Self-Medicating Depression?

There are several dangers associated with self-medicating depression. Self-medicating may be temporarily effective, but the consequences of using drugs and alcohol for a prolonged period may be severe.

Self-medicating depression can cause the symptoms of depression to worsen over time. If you self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, it is unlikely that you will learn coping skills that can allow you to manage discomfort healthily. It also makes it less likely that you will seek the depression treatment you need.

Using drugs and alcohol for a prolonged period also puts you at risk of developing an addiction that can harm your mental and physical health. Addiction is a severe, complex condition that can be difficult to treat. People should take all necessary steps to avoid developing an addiction and seek immediate treatment if they do.

If you are self-medicating depression, you must receive comprehensive treatment for both conditions to learn how to manage your symptoms and avoid relapse.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one are self-medicating depression, you must seek treatment. To get started, reach out to the Rehab Recovery Centers specialists today.


  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression

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