Mental illness is notorious for causing sufferers to self-medicate. Most often, self-medication is very harmful, sometimes resulting in overdose or other physical consequences. Here are a few common forms of self-medication and how to recognize them as substance abuse.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
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Alcohol is one of the most common ways that people self-medicate in order to cope with various mental illnesses, from bipolar disorder to depression, schizophrenia, and more. It is, for the most part, socially acceptable to drink regularly and is very easy to acquire. Alcohol quiets the mind, forcing it to slow down and relax. For many mental illness sufferers, this is all they want to experience, even if it is only for a few hours.
Some signs of alcohol abuse might be shirking responsibilities at home or work in favor of drinking, drinking as a response to stress, or frequently drinking with a seeming inability to go without alcohol. A person who is abusing alcohol may also attempt to hide their drinking while a self-medicating person may also combine alcohol with medications despite dangerous results.
Tobacco is known for soothing nerves, limiting anxiety, and reducing stress, which is why many people in high-stress jobs can be seen smoking on their breaks. As a form of self-medication, tobacco can ease anxiety and panic on top of potentially treating some symptoms of schizophrenia. A surprising number of people with schizophrenia become hooked on tobacco with studies showing that smoking can genuinely reducing symptoms such as sensory and cognitive deficits.
Signs of tobacco abuse include withdrawal, planning days around smoke breaks, irritability without a certain amount of nicotine, and continued smoking despite any emerging health concerns.
Marijuana is likely the least detrimental form of self-medication. Though smoking marijuana has been shown to have some negative side effects, including short-term memory loss, marijuana is the lesser of many evils when compared to most other addictive substances. Marijuana permits the person to relax and can combat the effects of anxiety and depression. However, a dependence on any substance is never beneficial.
Signs of marijuana abuse can include withdrawal, problems sleeping without using the substance, a distinct smell, and regular use.
Prescription Medication Abuse
Prescription medication addiction often occurs accidentally. Since these treatments are prescribed by doctors, patients may fail to realize the dangers of overdosing. Overuse of these medications may be an attempt to treat worsening symptoms or to simply up the dosage if the prescribed dosage is not helping enough.
It is fairly easy to recognize prescription drug misuse. The prescribed dosage will be available on the container. If the person is exceeding the dose having not consulted their doctor, they may be at risk of addiction. They may also experience severe withdrawal without the substance or may notice that their usual dosage has become ineffective.
Intentional abuse can be harder to spot as the user will be concealing their actions. A sudden change in moods, behaviors, or temperament is often cause for concern if you are aware that the person is taking prescription medications.
Self-medication is all too common in a society where mental illness is rampant and medical care is difficult to obtain. Some people are able to cope with mental illness simply by cultivating positive coping strategies such as exercise, meditation, and a healthy diet. For others, medication is necessary. It is always best to consult a doctor for approved treatments and to seek help from a counselor for non-medical recommendations.
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