Experts say the formative years of childhood are crucial. They determine how you’ll respond to challenging situations and what tools you’ve learned to cope with them.
The same is true about mental health conditions. Managing them is a lifelong process, but the skills used to manage them are learned early on. Establishing healthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety can minimize the adverse effects that mental health conditions have on your life.
However, when you don’t learn healthy coping skills, you might seek alternative ways to avoid experiencing difficult feelings associated with your mental health condition.
Too Much to Handle
Having a mental health condition can be a lot to handle. On top of everything else you might be balancing in your busy life, such as school, jobs, relationships, and finances, it can even feel too much sometimes.
When overwhelmed, it’s natural to seek a way to negate uncomfortable feelings or symptoms. You may have found this relief by doing something that brings you joy, such as exercising, reading, or socializing.
Conversely, you may have never developed healthy outlets for coping with complicated symptoms or feelings like anxiety, stress, or depression. Instead, you may think that self-medicating to numb those feelings is a viable solution. This may be the solution you were taught during your formative years or you may have found that this was the easiest solution.
Unfortunately, the easiest solution isn’t always the best solution. Nevertheless, many people turn to self-medicating to attempt to treat their mental health conditions.
Dangers of Self-Medicating
Self-medicating can come in many forms. Anything you use to numb painful thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, or other undesirable symptoms can be considered self-medicating. This often comes from alcohol or substance use, such as opioids. When you use such substances to self-medicate, the results can be catastrophic.
Lack of Insight
Insight is your ability to evaluate your thoughts and actions objectively. It’s often easy to see when someone else is doing something that could harm themselves or others. However, it is often much more difficult to see when you are doing it. You may have a blind spot to your behaviors due to conscious or subconscious rationalization. Still, with treatment and practice, you can gain some insight.
One of the greatest dangers of using a substance to self-medicate symptoms of your mental health condition is the lack of insight. Even physicians who fully understand the substance and its effect on the body may lack the insight to choose a medication regimen safely. Often, insight into how much harm you might be causing to your health is not gained until some negative side effect has resulted. By then, the damage caused may be irreversible.
Almost everyone has become familiar with consequences at some point in their life. That could be getting grounded by your parents for not cleaning your room or something far worse. Regardless of the severity, no one likes to deal with the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, they exist to teach the hard-learned lessons of life. Choosing to self-medicate is no different.
The list of potential consequences of choosing to self-medicate is a long one. Not only can you hurt yourself, but you can hurt others through the decisions you make when under the influence. The legal consequences can cost you everything in life, including your job, friends, family, and freedom. Your mental and physical health can suffer in several ways depending on the substance you abuse and the injuries you suffer as a consequence of their use.
One of the most devastating consequences of self-medicating can be the development of substance use disorder (SUD). Although some people are genetically predisposed to the development of addiction, it can happen to anyone. Addiction occurs when the brain becomes dependent on a substance to supply it with a constant source of reward hormones. Recovering from addiction is complex and tends to be a lifelong process.
Having an addiction can make controlling your initial mental health condition even more difficult. It can even exacerbate certain conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Conversely, those conditions can worsen the addiction by telling the body that it needs more of the substance to feel better. This can create a cycle that is difficult to break without treatment for both the mental health condition and the addiction.
Choose Treatment Over Self-Medicating
Sometimes, having a mental health condition can be overwhelming, and seeking help can be daunting. It can feel easier and tempting to self-medicate rather than get treatment from a mental health professional.
However, the dangers and consequences of self-medicating can be far more burdensome in the long run. On top of that, the primary mental health condition may worsen. Professional treatment can improve the symptoms of your mental health condition and significantly reduce the difficult feelings or emotions you may be experiencing.
The healthy coping mechanisms you learn in treatment will allow you to deal with those thoughts and feelings when they arise. Choosing treatment over self-medicating may seem like a lot of work on the front end, and it usually is. However, doing that work is a way of proving to yourself that you are worth the effort.
A mental health condition can be challenging, especially if you don’t have healthy coping mechanisms. It can be tempting to try to self-medicate symptoms and difficult feelings, but there are significant dangers in doing this. Choosing to get treatment for your mental health instead of self-medicating can significantly improve your health and prevent many negative consequences.
At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we aim to help our clients develop healthy coping mechanisms during their treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with the desire to self-medicate to cope with a mental health condition, our team of experts is here to help. Call us at (714) 942-4143 for more information.