Renaissance Ranch

5 Signs You Are Using Substances to Self-Medicate

Feb 12, 2023

Using substances to self-medicate is more common than you might think. It can be tempting to turn to drugs or alcohol to try to ease pain or escape thoughts and feelings that are not pleasant. The problem is that substances only mask the issue temporarily at best. Sometimes, they can even make things worse. 

How do you know if you are using substances to self-medicate? Well, it is important to consider when and why you use substances. For example, do you drink alcohol for a specific purpose, such as to de-stress or cope with chronic pain? Maybe you seek drugs to combat feelings of anxiety or depression. 

If this sounds like you, it might be time to seek proper treatment. Using substances to remedy pain, intrusive thoughts, or other symptoms of co-occurring disorders can prolong the real problem and result in addiction. Let’s discuss a few indicators that could suggest that you are using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. 

1. Sudden Avoidance or Secrecy

When you are using or abusing substances, trying to avoid your loved ones out of fear that they may discover and disapprove of your choices can be common. You may feel ashamed or guilty and, as a result, try to hide your habits. 

Keeping secrets from those close to you is a tough burden to bear. However, if you are using drugs or alcohol to cope with another illness or pain, you may find it easier to lie than to come clean about what you are going through. 

2. Poor Physical and Mental Health

Substances impact your overall health more than you might think. When you turn to drugs or alcohol to try to remedy your anxiety, depression, trauma, or pain, you are harming both your mental and physical health. Substances don’t just alter the way your brain and body function while you are using them but continue to impact things long after the drugs or alcohol have worn off. Similarly, substances impact organ function, disrupt the way your body processes nutrients and removes toxins.

3. Mood Swings

While you might be seeking substances to try to ease anxiety symptoms, they might actually make your anxiety worse. Substances interfere with chemicals in the brain that directly impacts your mood by increasing stress hormones and decreasing the presence and absorption of dopamine. This means that if you are using drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms of depression, you are taking the wrong approach. 

4. Seeking Emotional Regulation

If your decision to drink alcohol or use drugs is emotionally driven, you might be self-medicating. For example, let’s say you have a history of childhood trauma that still impacts you as an adult. You might feel desperate to escape these thoughts or the feelings these memories can evoke. Or you might struggle to maintain balance or mood stability, and substances help you remain calm and steady. 

5. Aiming to Ease Anxiety or Depression

Maybe you have such extreme anxiety that you find it difficult to function or feel productive. As a result, you seek drugs or alcohol to help ease those feelings. If you find yourself using substances to cope with emotions or thought patterns, it is possible that you could have a co-occurring disorder and are using one problem to try to solve another. 

Identifying Potential Co-Occurring Disorders

As you seek help for your substance use, it is essential to consider whether an underlying condition may contribute to your addiction. As you enter treatment, you will receive a complete evaluation and assessment to determine if you might have a co-occurring disorder. This is important because without treating your whole self, inclusive of all other conditions, you cannot fully recover. 

Some signs of a potential co-occurring disorder can include the following:

  • Sudden change in behavior or mood
  • Isolation or change in social life
  • Increased risk behavior
  • Experiencing cravings or withdrawal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Delusions
  • Neglecting physical health or hygiene
  • Ideations of self-harm

Seeking Treatment

Putting an end to the cycle of self-medicating can be challenging. Your body and brain can become accustomed to this routine of easing symptoms with drugs or alcohol, making the thought of discontinuing use very daunting. The great news is that by seeking treatment for your addiction and co-occurring disorder, you can get the proper treatment for your symptoms. 

Getting the right treatment for your mental illness is critical for proper functioning and overall health. You can eliminate dependence on harmful toxins to temporarily mask their effects and get long-term results by treating your symptoms properly. 

Treating your addiction and any underlying conditions by entering a treatment program may be the only ticket to truly living the love you deserve. Self-medicating will only prolong your recovery and can cause significant damage to your mental and physical health. Consider your motivation for seeking substances, and seek professional help to address the real problem. 

Determining whether or not your substance use is an effort to self-medicate is not always easy to detect. It is essential to assess the frequency, amount, and reasons behind your drug use or alcohol consumption. Are you drinking to cope with anxiety? Are you using drugs to combat feeling depressed and alone? Renaissance Ranch can help you identify any co-occurring disorders that could be contributing to your addiction. Our clinical staff will conduct an evaluation at intake that will allow us to develop an individualized treatment plan for you and your needs. To learn more about our programs and to get started with your recovery journey, call Renaissance Ranch at (801) 308-8898.