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The Many Faces of Self-Medicating: Using Drugs to Self-Medicate a Problem

From the outside, drug choice and addiction can seem random and pointless. The start of one’s using, however, probably included a fairly rational choice regarding the substance of abuse.

People’s choice in substance can often be understood by looking at the problem that he or she was trying to fix through self-medicating. Uppers, downers, or other types of drugs all affect the individual in a different way. They all, however, affect the dopamine and other neural chemicals such that the effect is euphoria.

No matter the drug or drugs chosen, using substances to overcome a problem is one of the warning signs of a budding addiction. This method of coping is not healthy and is often one of the first signs of addiction.

Different Drugs for Different Problems

The most commonly abused substance worldwide is alcohol. People abuse alcohol for a variety of purposes, some which are to mediate stress and overcome anxiety.

Alcohol is nicknamed “liquid courage” for a reason: its effects help people overcome social and situational anxiety. Also, alcohol is frequently used to ease out of a hard day. People who are stressed often react to the stress with “I need a drink.”

People who are nervous about a situation commonly reach for a drink. Unfortunately, society condones relatively alcoholic behavior when it comes to using alcohol to overcome any sort of discomfort. People drink on dates and to “loosen up” before sex. Some people simply cannot have sex without first ingesting alcohol.

All of these situations involve the use of alcohol to self-medicate in order to overcome a problem and none of these uses of alcohol is considered healthy.


People who use opiates typically don’t want to feel anything. Drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers typically numb a person completely, both physically and mentally. People who choose opioids and opiates are generally trying to avoid hurtful emotions and sensations.

The opioid epidemic is often linked to legitimate opioid use, where an individual experiences emotional and psychological relief, which becomes the driving force behind the individual seeking more and more of this type of substance.

However, opioids are so extremely addictive that repeated use causes addiction, which in turn typically leads to a complicating of problems and increase in trauma and distress.


Marijuana is a little unique in the world of mood and mind-altering substances. It is accepted as not causing physical dependence or addiction, however, the psychological and emotional effects can become something an individual relies too heavily on.

People who use marijuana are usually trying to escape reality, boredom or stress. Though not as toxic as heroin and meth, the effects of self-medicating with marijuana can be detrimental.
If a person uses any drug to escape reality, this is a problem. The only healthy way to handle reality is to use coping skills that do not involved altering reality.

Additionally, those who choose to smoke weed over other options to relieve boredom are doing themselves no favors. By choosing marijuana, you are choosing sedation over activity. A better way to handle boredom would be to join a sports club, volunteer, hike, or just about anything other than weed.

Stress is another bad reason to smoke weed. Numbing or avoiding stress and emotions associated with stress generally makes the situation worse.


Uppers are some of the most toxic substances you can put in your body. People who choose uppers over other types of drugs are typically looking to escape while maintaining energy and alertness. Common upper examples include meth, ecstasy, cocaine and prescription amphetamines like Adderall.

Uppers are party drugs; an individual who seeks out an upper is usually planning on attending a rave or some version of a party. Uppers are also preferred by those who want to enhance a sexual experience — Drugs like ecstasy and Adderall are known to increase libido and sexual drive.

These types of drugs can be especially dangerous when used for sexual purposes. They also decrease inhibition and increase desire to such an extent that those under the influence are prone to risky behavior.

Mental Illness and Drug Choice

Mental Illnesses and drug choice also often have a correlation. People with a certain mental illness often favor the same types of drugs.

Depression and substance abuse often go hand in hand; people use all kinds of substances to combat depression. All drugs, whether upper, downer or other create a euphoria caused by the influx of dopamine.

Many people who suffer from depression abuse substances, which, in turn, can make the depression worse, never better. The increase in mood is coupled by a subsequent drop in mood and perspective. Though things seem better while under the influence, afterward it can feel like the world is ending.

Bipolar disorder is another mental illness commonly linked to substance abuse. People suffering from bipolar disorder often combat the swings between depression and mania with drugs. The individual might combat the mania with heroin and the depression with meth or some other upper.

Easing discomfort caused by a mental illness is one of the best ways to develop an addiction. People with an addiction and a co-occurring mental disorder account for a significant portion of those admitted into treatment.

How to Stop the Cycle

Addiction is a mental illness that kills more people than car accidents and gun violence. The epidemic of substance abuse in the United States has reached record highs. In some areas, the morgues have literally been overloaded and the city has had to call in refrigerated trucks to help deal with the large number of dead.

You don’t have to be another body on a cold slab. There is hope for people with addiction and those with addiction and a co-occurring disorder.

The best way to address addiction is to enter an addiction treatment center. Here at ABT, we hope you will find the place that best works for you, no matter what treatment center it is.

Many people do not have access to inpatient care due to monetary requirement or medical insurance. That’s okay — 12-step programs are free and are the original method of overcoming substance abuse. Find a 12-step fellowship and free yourself from the burden and devastation that is addiction.