Signs You Are Self-Medicating

Signs You Are Self-Medicating

Published on February 4, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Everyone experiences emotional hardships and stress in life.  Many people also go through more difficult circumstances that lead to trauma and lasting mental health issues.  In all of these instances, it is common to seek out ways to cope. Some people look for outlets through healthy avenues such as exercise or mindfulness practices, however, it can sometimes seem easier and more convenient to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. 

Unfortunately, using substances to avoid processing difficult emotions or to relieve mental stress can lead to a whole host of negative outcomes including worse mental health and addiction. Self-medicating behavior is often normalized in our culture, so it can be difficult to recognize these habits as problematic in anyone, but especially in yourself.   Being cognizant of signs of self-medicating behavior can help you to identify a developing addiction, and to understand when it is time to seek professional help.

You Use Drugs or Alcohol to Alter Your Mood

It might seem like everyone uses substances to alter their state of mind, but the truth is that regularly using drugs or alcohol because you are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, or angry is a sign of self-medication.  These negative emotions may come to the surface after a stressful day at work, a fight with your spouse, or a flashback of a traumatic incident. It is true that drugs and alcohol are often the fastest way to numb your pain when negative feelings become too much to bear, but they also come with consequences. 

These chemicals work as a coping mechanism because they alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, temporarily providing a rush of euphoria or indifference. However, this initial effect is almost always followed by a depletion of those same chemicals, leaving you feeling worse than you did in the first place.  This may look like an anxiety-filled hangover the next day, or week-long bout of depression after drug use. 

Substances Don’t Have the Same Effect They Once Did

One of the classic signs of substance abuse after developing a habit of self-medication is the development of tolerance.  Usually, this process begins when you find yourself needing to take a larger dose or drink more alcohol to achieve the same effect you once did. 

Over time, you may find that substances don’t even provide you with relief from uncomfortable or painful emotions, but instead, only intensify your feelings.  For example, you may begin becoming angrier or more depressed under the influence of substances, rather than feeling calmer or relaxed.  

You Constantly Think About the Next Time You are Going to Use

When substance use turns into self-medication, it is common to begin thinking of drugs or alcohol any time things don’t go your way.  Eventually, as an addiction develops, you may find you start to plan for always having access to drugs or alcohol, and become worried or anxious when you know you will be in an environment where substances are not available.  You may become panicked or irritable in these situations, or even sabotage your day by starting a fight with someone to create an excuse for substance use.

People who self-medicate easily become reliant on substances to manage their mood, and without access to these substances it can feel as if you are trapped or entirely unable to cope with your circumstances. 

Your Problems Grow Worse

Self-medication is always a result of negative feelings or circumstances.  You may have begun drinking or using drugs to deal with something that was weighing heavy on you mentally, and at first, substance use may have helped you to relax or forget about your problems for a while. 

However, over time, self-medication will inevitably worsen your mental health and may even lead to increased problems in your personal and professional life. If you can point to ways that your substance use has created problems in your relationship, career, or finances, you may be slipping into an addiction through self-medicating behavior.  

People Around You Are Concerned About Your Substance Use

The people in your life can sometimes encourage destructive behavior, especially if they are uncomfortable with their own relationship with substances.  However, the people closest to you can also be the first to notice when you have a problem and may bring it to your attention by voicing their concern.

Drug users may be more likely to hear from friends and family about their behavior, while alcohol users often go many years masquerading as a “normal” drinker.  However, alcohol is extremely addictive and drinking to self-medicate in the face of trauma or mental health issues is a common path to addiction. Listen to your friends and family if they tell you they are concerned, but also be proactive about reaching out for help if you believe you may have a problem.  

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses.  We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.  By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing.

First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.