Is Self-Medicating with Drugs and Alcohol Like Addiction?

When people are going through difficult times, they often turn to substances to help them get through the day. They turn to alcohol, marijuana, prescription pills and other substances to help them manage their emotions and feelings. Some people may use home remedies or drugs and alcohol to help them sleep, be social or manage pain. But how is what they’re doing any different than what people diagnosed with addiction are doing? This article will look at other aspects of self-medicating and discuss whether it is the same as substance use disorder.

What Is Self-Medicating?

An individual's use of a substance for self-diagnosed or self-recognized health issues is self-medication. Typically, self-medicating involves consuming a substance like pharmaceutical medicine, herbal or dietary supplements, alcohol, illicit drugs, and other natural or synthetic substances to help alleviate physical, psychological, or emotional symptoms causing pain, discomfort, or distress.

In the broadest sense of the term, you can just as quickly think of a person self-medicating with a bowl of chicken noodle soup at the first sign of a cold as you could imagine a person buying a few pills of Xanax from a co-worker so they can treat their fear of flying for a business trip.

In the case of self-medication, the drug is usually one you have decided to self-prescribe for yourself to treat a condition based on curiosity, previous use, personal knowledge, or research on the substance. Or you may choose to self-medicate with a substance to treat a condition because someone you know and trust, who isn’t your doctor, recommends it from their past experiences or current use of the same substance for treating a similar condition.

Understanding the Difference Between Self-Medicating and Addiction

To some degree, nearly everyone has self-medicated in one of the ways described. Choosing a particular headache medicine over another brand based on comparative experience, a persuasive TV ad, or a testimonial from your neighbor is self-medicating.

Most times, self-medicating only becomes problematic when addictive substances are involved. There are exceptions, but drugs and alcohol are the usual culprits. That’s why people may wonder if their substance use to self-medicate is considered an addiction. The short answer is no; it isn’t. But there is more to it than that.

Addiction is defined as a pattern of drug use that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress in an individual. Self-medicating is not about defying legitimate medical advice from a health provider, nor is it about free-range intoxication. At the heart of the matter, self-medicating is essentially a form of self-care in which a person seeks an effective remedy for a health concern. 

The Good and Bad of Self-Medication

Besides diagnosed mental illnesses or some other chronic health condition, people may self-medicate by using alcohol, drugs, or even food as a way of coping with a lack of emotional support in some areas of their life. For example, a person could self-medicate with non-prescribed drugs to deal with increased stress at work or home. Someone who has recently suffered a loss may self-medicate with food for a temporary fix of their sorrow.

There may be times when the substance a person selects for self-medication outperforms former medications that may have been prescribed, or it does such a good job of alleviating the emotional distress, that people can forget the risks and potential dangers.

Many prescription drugs work exceptionally well, but unfortunately, they can also be highly addictive. Like many sweets, snacks, and sugary drinks taste good and could evoke euphoric feelings like chocolate. Nevertheless, emotional eating or self-medicating with high-calorie, high-sugar, and high-fat foods can sometimes be detrimental, especially if you have preexisting conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol. 

Some people believe that self-medicating is a form of addiction, while others believe it is a healthy way to deal with challenging emotions or take control of your health and wellness. Even though self-medicating is not diagnostically addiction doesn’t mean that it is something to do. Similarly, even though it could be beneficial now, it doesn’t mean that it will always be so.

Assessing Your Level of Substance Use 

Experts have identified five levels of substance use: experimental, recreational, circumstantial, intensified, and compulsive use. Self-medicating would fall in the middle as circumstantial, and addiction or substance use disorder ends with compulsive use. If you have the slightest concern that your self-medicating practices are escalating and getting out of your control, then it’s time to discuss things with a professional.

Suppose a doctor won’t prescribe you a medication. In that case, it may be better to find another doctor who will than to take someone else's prescription, which is not only unlawful but could cause drug interactions or side effects that you aren’t prepared for. If you are self-medicating because you lack emotional support, perhaps you can find groups, online communities, a peer support specialist, or a licensed therapist to help you work through things.

Many times, people make choices based on available options. While you have control over your decision, there are times when you have to make the best decision based on things outside of your control. When it comes to your health, you don’t always have many options for your treatment or the specific condition you have.

Self-medicating gives you more control in many ways, but addiction strips you of much of that. Not everyone who drinks develops alcoholism, like substance use disorder doesn’t always become a reality for every drug user. But if you have options and can prevent even the possibility of developing an addiction while you still have control, then explore options when considering self-medication.

Some physical and mental health conditions may require more help than others, but in many instances, sometimes lifestyle changes can help you heal physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Depending on the problem you want to fix, exercise, socializing, diet, hydration, relaxation techniques, good sleep hygiene, and finding someone to talk to can sometimes have the best healing properties.

There are many healthier ways to help you deal with negative emotions and navigate thru life that doesn't involve addictive substances. If you have concerns that by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, you have an addiction, you may want to talk about your substance use with a professional. Maybe substances are no longer serving you the way they once did. There is always someone available to help you. It just takes contacting a drug rehab like Wish Recovery, one of the best luxury dual diagnosis treatment centers in Los Angeles. Keep control of life.

Related Posts
The Optimal Inpatient Experience: Treatment Designed for You

Holistic, Luxury, Inpatient, Psychiatrist, Dual Diagnosis , Individual rooms with private bathrooms, Best Clinical team, Individual approach, Continuing care

Why can’t I stop drinking so much or using drugs?

Your brain adapts to substances with continued use, which makes stopping hard. It requires the right treatment to re-program your mind to live without them.

Treating Substance Use Disorder with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Using dialectical behavioral therapy to treat addiction is very popular and successful. Learn about acceptance-based and change-focused skills in recovery.


Get a Consultation Right Now!

Call: 747-463-1041

We are a group of professional and experienced psychologists and psychiatrists


Get a free, confidential consultation