A person often doesn’t recognize that they are self-medicating. Instead, they know that by drinking they feel better. Or by smoking marijuana their anxiety is less intense. Self-medication refers to the pattern of using substances as a means to medicate a possible mental health problem. The issue with this is that most people aren’t even aware that they have a mental health problem. In fact, it’s very common for men and women to believe that how they feel is how everyone feels but that they have a harder time with managing it.

Although self-medication might be an easy answer, it can cause problems for most people who do it. When a person begins to rely upon a substance to feel better, there is a greater likelihood that a psychological dependence will develop. And with that, there could be an addiction. In time, depending upon a substance for emotional or psychological support can create changes to the brain, leading a person to believe that they need a substance to survive. This is precisely what creates need to continue to drink or use drugs despite the negative circumstances that happen as a result.

Another problem that comes with self-medication is the stigma of mental illness. When society judges an illness, a person is less likely to seek treatment for it and instead find means to manage it privately, such as with self-medication. Even if someone were aware that they have depression, anxiety, or another psychological illness, they may tend to continue self-medicating with alcohol or drugs versus getting the help they need. Studies show that although people are aware that most psychological illnesses are biological, they wouldn’t want someone with schizophrenia or depression as a neighbor. This judgment points to the possibility of people avoiding psychological treatment for a mental illness or for addiction. And in fact, this is precisely the case. Men and women around the world do not get the help they need for addiction or for psychological illness.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one in 10 adults in the United States have a lifelong substance use disorder. And only one quarter of those individuals have received treatment for their diagnosis. Even more problematic is that research indicates that the public is becoming more and more accepting of the use of certain types of drugs, such as marijuana. This only encourages the use of substances as a means for self-medication where standard medical attention might be necessary. The American Psychiatric Association considers substance use disorders serious conditions. Despite this, those with addictions are not addressing the seriousness of their disorder.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an illness and is using drugs or alcohol as a means to self medicate, getting professional help could be life saving. Many psychological illnesses get worse over time. For instance, someone with depression might have suicidal thoughts. Those thoughts might become more and more severe until one day they attempt suicide and succeed. This person might have been drinking or using drugs as a means to feel better. Had he or she received treatment, a life could have been saved. Calling for professional help is not a reason to feel ashamed. In fact, if anything, it’s a call that can turn one’s life around. It’s an opportunity to find happiness, health, and sobriety.

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