woman with head in hands self medicating with alcohol

Self-Medicating with Alcohol Can Make Anxiety and Depression Worse

A topic was raised recently: “I have two friends who drink to relax vs. taking prescription medications. They feel it’s cheaper, easier, and has no side effects.” It is common practice among people who face depression and anxiety to turn to self-medicating with alcohol, often without realizing the negative effects it can have. When emotions become unpleasant, some choose to mask the feelings, anticipating that they will become intolerable.

Self-medication is a unique problem for many because it’s part of some people’s nature to want to remain self-contained in handling themselves. Reaching out for help feels like an admission of failure, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The odds of a successful alcohol addiction recovery are much higher when they aren’t treated from home with aggressive numbing—that’s why Promises Behavioral Health strives to provide the necessary programs for recovering addicts. If you’re questioning whether or not to reach out for proper treatment, call 844.875.5609 to inquire about our alcohol addiction treatment center, anxiety treatment center, and depression treatment center.

Why Are So Many Self-Medicating Depression with Alcohol?

A low threshold for discomfort is one factor that contributes to this decision. Tian Dayton, Ph.D., equates it to “the same sort of premise as having access to your own morphine drip. You administer your own dose whenever you begin to feel pain.” The reasons are varied and include:

  • It is more easily accessible and can be purchased in supermarkets
  • It is legal for those over 21
  • It doesn’t require a prescription.
  • It can satisfy a desire to “take the edge off and relax”
  • Unlike prescription drugs, it is used as part of a social activity

The paradigm is that most who drink socially stop after a few drinks, fearing a potential lack of control, while people who are predisposed to addiction will continue to indulge because, they say, it helps them feel in control. Paradoxically, as people build up a tolerance, their alcohol consumption begins to override their sense of power over their own lives.

The Downside of Attempting to Elevate Mood

Drinking alcohol as a numbing agent can grow to become very habitual. This cycle is not only emotionally numbing, it has consequences that reach far into one’s health and social life. It’s like a band-aid and hardly a sterile one at that. These are just a few of the undesirable effects of self-medicating with alcohol:

  • Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. If one is already feeling depressed, it will exacerbate the symptoms.
  • It interferes with other medications.
  • Becoming acclimated so that more is needed to reach the desired effect
  • Dependence, whether physiological or psychological, escalates
  • Despite consequences, continued drinking is likely to occur
  • When the alcohol wears off, anxiety may increase.
  • It can complicate pre-existing medical conditions or create new ones.
  • It may mask symptoms of mental health conditions that would otherwise be treated.
  • It inhibits the use of healthy coping skills.
  • It is not monitored as prescription medications are.

Alternatives to Self-Medicating Anxiety With Alcohol

There are many options to self-medicating with alcohol, of course, including getting professional help from mental health professionals at Promises Behavioral Health, such as:

  • Ask yourself what role alcohol plays in your life and the purpose it serves.
  • Question what your life would be like without it.
  • Imagine never drinking again. What emotions arise?
  • How would you deal with those feelings?
  • Who are your supporters to help you get through whatever arises?
  • Find other physical and psychological ways to take the edge off.
  • Learn meditation to ease yourself into a state of relaxation.
  • Engage in therapy.
  • Attend self-help meetings.
  • Consult with individuals you know with extended sober time who have been through the ups and downs of addiction and can speak knowledgeably on the topic.

A mindfulness-based concept called “urge surfing” addresses that dynamic. It was created by Gordon Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Washington and director of its addictive behaviors research center. Rather than suggesting that people simply resist the desire to use, which often ends up backfiring, Marlatt encouraged the practice of observing one’s feelings, breathing consciously, being aware of bodily sensations, and allowing the thoughts to flow through. These techniques and suggestions are good medicine when used with a desire for well-being.

Promises Behavioral Health Treats Anxiety and Depression Better

Remember, anxiety and depression are common and nothing to feel shameful about. Treating these conditions rather than obfuscating or ignoring them can not bode well for the future. Ask about the professional help that Promises Behavioral Health provides nationwide, and find out if one of our treatment centers is right for you. Contact us at 844.875.5609 today to start your recovery journey and allow us to relieve the burden of dangerous self-medication.

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