a person sits on a couch thinking of the identifying is someone is engaging in substance abuse or self-medicating

Is It Substance Abuse or Self-Medicating?

Are you using drugs such as marijuana to manage your anxiety? What will happen if you do not have the opportunity to smoke? Your responses to these two questions will determine if you are self-medicating or have a substance use disorder. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, the meanings are quite different. However, if you are self-medicating or have developed a substance use disorder, you need guidance and support. But how do you know if your use is substance abuse or self-medicating?

The Right Step Hill Country is a dual diagnosis treatment center that offers support for people struggling with their mental health and addiction. With residential and outpatient options, our center just south of Austin, TX can provide the quality care needed to get sober. Call 866.912.8570 to get started today.

Know the Difference: Self-Medicating and Substance Abuse Disorder 

When someone is self-medicating, they are using substances such as alcohol and drugs to manage the symptoms they are feeling associated with a mental health or physical condition. While it is not considered an addiction initially, self-medicating routinely can lead to addiction—especially as the user begins to believe that they cannot function without drugs or alcohol. Therefore, this false sense of control is one of the greatest dangers of self-medicating.

On the other hand, when someone has developed a substance use disorder, they cannot stop using drugs or alcohol. Their need for substances is a compulsive, psychological need that is defined by tolerance and response to withdrawal. 

What Are the Dangers of Self-Medicating? 

There are many dangers associated with self-medicating. Prescribed medicine should only be used under the supervision of a medical practitioner. When you decide to self-medicate, you could be: 

  • Taking the wrong dosage of a medication 
  • Not paying attention to adverse reactions 
  • Making your anxiety or depression worse 
  • Developing allergy or skin problems because your body is not responding effectively to chemicals in drugs 
  • Become hypersensitive as a result of substance use

Common Substances Used to Self-Medicate 

Did you know that over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements are the most popular self-medicating substances? They are easily accessible at the local pharmacy, and neither requires a user to get a physician’s prescription.

However, misusing any drugs—legal or illegal—can be harmful. Here are substances commonly used to self-medicate: 

  • Alcohol 
  • Stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamines
  • Opiates and opioids 
  • Prescription drugs 
  • Cigarettes and cigars 

Whether you are struggling with substance abuse or self-medicating, it is essential to remember that misusing drugs and alcohol can impair your thinking. 

Reasons for Self-Medicating 

People who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are likely to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. As a matter of fact, an estimated 20% of people with PTSD self-medicate to find relief from anxiety and depression. The most common reasons for self-medicating are:

  • Exhaustive cost of medical treatment and medications 
  • The belief that there is no harm in self-medicating practices 
  • Prolonged chronic pain 
  • Fearing side effects of medications 
  • Enduring mental illness 
  • Access to medication 
  • No time to receive medical care 
  • Fear or anxiety associated with seeking professional medical help
  • Denying the existence of a mental health disorder 

Addiction Treatment at The Right Step Hill Country

Unfortunately, self-medicating often leads to substance abuse because users have a false sense of control. While they believe that they have a solution to support their mental health challenges, they are setting themselves up for addiction. 

At The Right Step Hill Country, we provide dual diagnosis treatment to support our clients with support in dealing with their mental health and substance use disorders. Whether you are challenged with substance abuse or self-medicating, it is essential that you seek an intervention. Our treatment programs will help you learn positive coping mechanisms that will support you through your sobriety. Contact us at 1.844.675.1628 to begin your journey. 

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