As a society, we are encouraged to believe that resolving health issues always follow a linear pattern:

  • The problem is identified by the individual
  • The individual consults the relevant medical professional to discuss their problem
  • The medical professional initiates a course of treatment in order to resolve the issue
  • The treatment is then successful

However, while the above “standing model” is the ideal, the process of managing health complaints – and particularly mental health complaints – is often far more complicated. There are a number of reasons why the standard model of care is deviated on, but in this post, we’re going to focus on one of the most pernicious: self-medication.

What is self-medication?

Self-medication occurs when an individual either feels they cannot access assistance via the standard model for any reason, or doesn’t trust it to work. Rather than relying on conventional medical care, they self-medicate, usually via recreational substances or increasing their alcohol consumption.

For example, if an individual is experiencing chronic stress or anxiety, they may self-medicate with alcohol in an effort to control or distract themselves from the issue.

Why is self-medication a problem?

Given that alcohol and recreational drugs are the most commonly used methods of self-medication, this means there is the constant threat of issues with addiction for those engaging in the practice.

Furthermore, it is also worth noting that self-medication doesn’t actually resolve the issue that caused them to start self-medicating. Worse yet, alcohol and recreational drugs can actually exacerbate the underlying condition – for example, alcohol actually makes depression worse, even if it seems to provide temporary relief in the moment.

What health issues cause people to self-medicate?

Emotional and mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, are the most likely reasons an individual will choose to self-medicate.

However, self-medication can also be a response to physical ailments – especially if chronic, long-term pain is involved.

What should you do if you suspect you are self-medicating?

First and foremost, if you suspect you are self-medicating, seek the appropriate support to address the issue itself; look for guides on how to stop drinking alcohol, talk to an addiction therapist to discuss recreational drug issues, and so on and so forth. You may also find it beneficial to speak to your doctor or a therapist, in case you need additional support.

Secondly, seek to treat the underlying issue that led you to self-medicate to begin with. Many people who self-medicate are not even aware of the connection between their increased alcohol consumption/drug use and their underlying condition. If this applies to your circumstance, it may help to keep a diary so you can try to trace correlations between the days on which you are more likely to self-medicate, and how you felt – mentally, physically, and emotionally – on those days.

The dual approach as discussed above – treating the self-medication itself, and the underlying issue – should set you on the right path to resolving the issue once and for all.

What should I do if I suspect someone I love is self-medicating?

Simply talk to them about the issue, expressing your concerns over their drinking or drug use, and encouraging them to confide in you. You may find that they are resistant to the idea initially; if this happens, just make it clear you are there for them if they need to talk.

If your loved one does agree that they may be self-medicating, you can guide them through the steps above: focus on the self-medication in and of itself, then look to resolve the underlying issue, and encourage them to visit a medical professional for further advice if required.

In conclusion

Self-medication is a complex issue that deviates from the “standard model” of emotional, mental, and physical health management. Hopefully, the above has helped to bolster your understanding of the matter, as well as provided a few pointers on how issues related to self-medication can be resolved.


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