As human beings, many of us turn to various substances to fill emotional voids. It can be a number of things, including drugs, alcohol, and food. No matter what the substance is, the practice of over-doing something to numb out an emotional issue is called self-medicating. It usually occurs as a result of an untreated mood disorder. The good news is that mood disorders of any kind – anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder – can be managed with the help of a medical professional and lifestyle modification. Even if you or a loved one have gone far down the path of self-medicating, with the right treatment it can be helped.
Self Medicating, Explained
Using drugs, alcohol, or food to help get through life’s tough moments can start innocently enough. People with social anxiety often use alcohol as a way to feel calmer about social situations, and it is completely socially acceptable. Same goes for people who use marijuana to calm down after a stressful day, or cocaine for a burst of energy. People with eating disorders might binge eat instead of hanging out with friends to obtain a sense of comfort. Or, they may purge and restrict calories when they feel anxious.
Sure, society considers many of these behaviors acceptable, to a point. For example, it is completely normal to go out to a bar or restaurant on a first date and throw back a few drinks. Or, during a breakup, everyone has heard of the cliche of a newly single woman sitting on her sofa with a pint of ice cream. The problem is that these small habits can spiral out of control big time, especially when there is an undiagnosed mood disorder in the mix.
Signs of Self-Medicating
How can you tell if you are ok, or potentially heading down a slippery slope? It is often hard to tell, but one of the best rules of thumb is that if you are questioning it, you probably already have a problem. The good news is that you are aware of it, and the next step is to make some changes.
However, there are a number of other signs you or a loved one are using drugs, alcohol, or food as a crutch. Here are some of the main ones:
- You prefer your substance of choice over activities you used to enjoy. If you would rather spend Friday night home alone indulging instead of your old favorite past time, it is a good idea to take a look at why you are acting that way.
- You need more and more to get the same effects. Your abuse may have started out small, but it has slowly increased until you feel more and more to get the same feeling. With drinking, you may have gone from drinking only beer to hard liquor. With drugs, you may be going through more and more each week, and seeing a significant impact on your bank account. If food is your issue, you may be restricting calories more than ever, or going multiple days without eating.
- You don’t feel normal without it. This one mainly applies to drugs and alcohol, but can also apply to food. If you are becoming addicted to a substance, it isn’t just mental, but also physical. Your body gets used to operating with the substance in it and will crave it when it is missed. As a result, getting up in the morning may be tough, and if you keep up your habit you will eventually need your substance of choice just to get out of bed. When it comes to food, you may have an anxiety attack if you didn’t get the food you planned on bingeing on before the store closed, or you may feel depressed if you went over your allotted calorie limit.
- You keep your habits a secret from loved ones. It is a clear sign that things are going wrong if you need to keep it hidden from the people who love you most. Simply, it means you are doing something you know is self-destructive, but it feels too good to change your habits. As a result, you do it in hiding.
The good news is that self-medicating can be stopped. It is absolutely essential to get professional help and to be as honest as possible with your doctors so that they can properly manage any underlying mood disorders you have that are contributing to your addiction.