According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States experienced mental illness in 2019. That’s approximately 51.5 million people. Of those 51 million people, about 13.1 million experience serious mental illness.1 Mental illness is painful and can be debilitating. Many turn to self-medication of mental illness as they seek relief. Unfortunately, self-medication of mental illness is dangerous and can lead to additional issues like addiction and even death. The good news is that there are healthy ways to care for yourself mentally and people who want to help you do so.
Mental Illness and Drug Dependence: The Chicken Or The Egg?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 7.7 million people have co-occurring mental and substance abuse disorders. They estimate that nearly 40% of adults with substance use disorders also experience mental illness, while almost 20% of those who have a mental illness also suffer from substance abuse disorders.2
There’s often no way to know which issue comes first, but research does show that many dealing with mental illness will attempt to self-medicate for relief from the pain. Some studies show that as many as 40% of people with mental illness will turn to self-medication for help.3
Self-Medication Of Mental Illness: Making The Tough Tougher
Mental illness is an issue with the brain chemistry in your body. Many of the medicines you take to help battle the effects of mental health issues will stabilize the chemistry in your brain and keep things on a more balanced level. Too often, you may find you can’t afford help for mental health issues, or you’re ashamed that you’re dealing with them and want to keep them quiet. You may feel like you can handle your depression or anxiety because that glass of wine you have takes the edge off. Maybe the joint you smoke brings a bit of temporary peace.
Drugs and alcohol may seem to bring you some balance from the mental health issues back into your life. This is called self-medication. Though it seems to work temporarily, you also are likely to find yourself more and more dependent upon your substance of choice to give you some temporary stability. This can not only make your mental health issues worse, but it can also lead to overdose and death.
What Are Common Ways To Self-Medicate Mental Illness?
Often, if you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, you may have a problem with mood function, coping, and sleeping. You may try to ‘numb’ the pain and anxiety with drugs or alcohol. If you suffer from bipolar or other mood disorders that tend to give you mood swings, you may find you’re using to bring yourself ‘up’ or ‘down’ as the case may call for.
Sometimes you may find that you can’t perform everyday functions because your anxiety makes you feel paralyzed. Drugs or alcohol may lower your inhibitions and make it easier to face whatever your day-to-day life requires. Additionally, suppose you suffer from things like post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Drugs or alcohol may be the way you tune the triggers and memories and pain out.
List of Substances Used to Self-Medicate:
- Marijuana: This is often used to bring some ‘calm’ to your life and help you ‘relax.’ You may find that it enables you to sleep and not feel depressed.
- Alcohol: Alcohol affects your brain in many ways. It’s a depressant and slows your central nervous system functions, but in the short term, it also lowers anxiety and lowers inhibitions. You may find you become the life of the party, and tension and anxiety in your life disappear for a bit.
- Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Other Stimulants: These drugs work on the ‘reward’ center in your brain. They give you big spikes of dopamine, also known as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. These stimulants can also help you feel like you’re ‘on’ and can focus, be productive, and feel good about what you’re doing.
- Sedatives, Tranquilizers, and Other Depressants: When dealing with mental illness, these are often prescribed to help you do so. They take anxiety levels down and aid sleep and brain stabilization. But they’re often abused or taken without doctor’s orders to self-medicate.
- Heroin and Other Opioid Prescription Painkillers: These are depressants of the central nervous system, and they can bring about feelings of peace and happiness. They increase relaxation and tone down anxiety and stress. Still, they are often abused or taken without doctor’s orders, and they create dependence in your body very quickly.
Clear Life Recovery Can Help Prevent Harm
While it’s tempting to eliminate the pain accompanying mental health issues with self-medication, it’s dangerous. You’re likely not getting the help you need for your mental health issues. You are also far more likely to develop tolerance and dependence on substances you use to self-medicate. This can lead to dangerous overdoses and even death.
You don’t have to resort to self-medication, though. At Clear Life Recovery, we work to determine the best treatment plan for you. We’ll create a program for your unique issues and needs, addressing both your substance misuse and mental health.
With our holistic programs and evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we’ll help you get back to the life you were meant to live. You don’t have to walk this journey alone anymore. We’re here to walk with you. All you have to do is take the first step and contact us today.