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Why People Tend to ‘Self-Medicate’ with Drugs & Alcohol

Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

Self-medication is when a person takes drugs or alcohol to make themselves feel better about a self-diagnosis or existing diagnoses and have not consulted with a physician before picking up their drug of choice.

A study was done with 56 students and out of all those students, it was found that 48.6% of the 56 students self-medicated. That is nearly at 50%, which is a large number. When COVID-19 hit the U.S. and a state of emergency was declared and only front-line workers were able to leave their home, the number of people that self-medicated increased. I have been known to self-medicate. So, I have personal experience with the topic at hand.

People self-medicate with drugs and alcohol for their own personal reasons. Everyone is different. Some people might self-medicate for similar reasons as another person but everyone reacts to situations in their own way. Some people like to use drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health issues or physical issues like pain or diagnoses like fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, or chronic back pain. Some people get prescriptions from a medical professional but the medication they receive only seems to help a little bit so they might try to find and use a drug or alcohol to help with the rest of their symptoms that they might have.

In my home state, Pennsylvania, marijuana is legal if you have certain health conditions that smoking marijuana might help much better than prescriptions for pills alone. They give you a medical marijuana patient ID if you meet certain criteria. I, personally, have my medical card. When I get off work, the first thing I do when I get home is smoke some flower (weed). I will admit, I smoke more marijuana much more than what the recommended dose says. I can easily blow through an eighth of flower in a day or two. That is why I started buying my flower an ounce at a time. I self-medicate with marijuana to help my overwhelming anxieties and mental health conditions such as bipolar I disorder and for the physical pain issues that I have developed over the years. I only feel like a normal human being when I am high. When I am sober, I feel like an imposter in my own life. It gets hard to deal with life without using marijuana. The only time I can stand being sober is when I am at work because I do not use marijuana while working or even before work. But at times, I wish I could use at work.

The more someone continues to self-medicate it can easily turn into an addiction, especially depending on what substance a person is using. Some people self-medicate because it is hard from them to deal with their daily life. Or to clear their mind of intrusive continuous thoughts. Some people that self-medicate mix prescription medications with a drug of their choice. Or sometimes even multiple substances get mixed together.

Someone that has a hard time sleeping to the point where it becomes bothersome in their daily life might turn to heroin, benzodiazepines, other narcotics, or some other ‘downer’ drug. And someone that has a hard time staying awake might turn to cocaine in order to gain some energy or they might take some other form of an ‘upper.’ There is thousands and thousands of reasons a person might turn to self-medicating.

Self-medication does not have to do with only illegal drugs, legal drugs, and alcohol. People sometimes get holistic and herbal supplements to try to practice self-care without realizing that they are also self-medicating. Kratom falls under the herbal supplements and some people start to take Kratom daily and have the potential to become addicted to it. Many people that self-medicate become addicted to the substance that they are using to help themselves when really, they could be harming themselves more than they know.  

Some people sometimes self-medicate just to get away from their reality of life to use as an escape purpose. They do not want to feel the way that they are feeling and self-medicating might be their go-to. I used to self-medicate with illegal drugs in the past to try to escape my mental health symptoms. I do not just have Bipolar I disorder, but I also suffer with extreme anxiety, PTSD, ADD, and a dissociative disorder caused by traumatic events in my life. When I could not get my hands on illegal substances or I could not find someone to get narcotics from such as Oxycontin or Percocet, I would turn to drinking which got terrifyingly bad for me.

At first, drinking was fun and it helped me care less and loosen up. But then out of no where I would sometimes get extremely depressed on alcohol and I would lose my shit (so to speak). I even would get physically violent toward who ever my target was at the time. My family and former therapist told me that I was an alcoholic and after some time I started trying to live the AA sober life. Sobriety only lasted about a year for me and then I would hide my drug use. And this all stemmed from me trying to self-medicate.

In the United States, 77.7% of people that have been diagnosed with a health condition had reported that they self-medicate. 27.5% of that large percentage of American people self-medicated because they have physical health issues. And 26.5% of people with a mental health disorder self-medicated. Lets not forget that 23.7% of people with both mental and physical disorders turned to self-medicating as well.  

If you know someone that self-medicates, do not to judge them too harshly because there is a reason or a struggle that they are going through which is causing them to feel the need to self-medicate. Not everyone talks about the challenges they have going on in their life.

Samantha View All

Samantha is the author of "My Bipolar Mind: You're not alone," she is also a freelance writer, blogger, and mental health advocate who runs and manages her own mental health blog

One thought on “Why People Tend to ‘Self-Medicate’ with Drugs & Alcohol Leave a comment

  1. Self medicating saved me from a more sinister situation a year or so ago. Simply because I couldn’t get the health professionals needed for a period of time (2 hours) and I felt so uncomfortable and distressed that that was too late for my needs. My prescription medication isn’t an instant hit, altering my state of consciousness when taken, but it’s what i needed. I got some cocaine and simply just to get me through the next couple of hours. It saved my life potentially. I was calmer and less agitated. As much as we dismiss some drugs as being detrimental, it’s scientific fact that we have to use the chemical and not abuse the chemical.

    Further to the point I made, it is popular reasoning behind self medicating that it’s instant hit with narcotics that you are missing from prescription medication

    Liked by 1 person

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