Am I Self-Medicating? [How to Know the Difference]

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

Mental health professionals can often understand people’s choice of substance by looking at the problem they tried to fix through self-medicating. Uppers, downers, or other drugs all affect the individual differently. They all, however, affect dopamine and other neural chemicals such that the effect is euphoria.

Whether the drug or drugs were 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.

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Different Drugs & Alcohol and Why People Use Them to Self-Medicate

Depending on the issue being suffered from, a person may seek out a wide variety of substances that help curb their negative symptoms. It’s been shown that stress for example plays a huge role in the choice to self-medicate. Those who are stressed often choose to partake in alcohol or opioid use.

Those suffering from mood disorders also seek out substances to abuse as a way to lessen the negative effects that come with it.


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

Alcohol is nicknamed “liquid courage” because 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 using alcohol to overcome any discomfort. People drink on dates and “loosen up” before sex. Some people cannot have sex without first ingesting alcohol.

All of these situations involve using alcohol to self-medicate to overcome a problem, and none of these uses of alcohol are 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 are generally trying to avoid hurtful emotions and sensations.

The opioid epidemic is often linked to legitimate opioid use. 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, leading to complications of problems and an 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 on.

People who use marijuana usually try to escape reality, boredom, or stress. Though not as toxic as heroin and meth, 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 involve altering reality.

Additionally, those who choose to smoke weed over other options to relieve boredom do no favors. By choosing marijuana, you are choosing sedation overactivity. A better way to handle boredom would be joining a sports club, volunteering, hiking, 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.

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Uppers are some of the most toxic substances you can put in your body. People who choose uppers over other 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 usually plans to attend 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 the desire to such an extent that those under the influence are prone to risky behavior. addiction-helpline

How Mental Health Plays into Drug and Alcohol Use

Mental Illnesses and drug choices also often correlate. 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 with a subsequent drop in mood and perspective. Though things seem better while under the influence, it can feel like the world is ending afterward. Bipolar disorder is another mental illness commonly linked to substance abuse. People with 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 Get Help for a Self-Medicating Addiction

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 been overloaded, and the city has had to call in refrigerated trucks to help deal with many 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. Getting the help you need now is the only way to gain control of your choices and actions.


[1] Interactions Between Stress and Drugs of Abuse [2] Opioids and Stress [3] The Role of Self-Medication in the Development of Comorbid Mood and Drug Use Disorders




Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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