A Doctor’s Note: How Self-Medicating Spirals into Addiction

By Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director, Gateway Treatment Centers

 

John Larson Gateway Treatment Centers

Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director
Gateway Treatment Centers

For many, addiction unwittingly begins with self-medicating, which is when a person uses substances, like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or prescription medication, in an attempt to appease symptoms related to physical pain, social anxiety or depression.

For example, take social anxiety—in modest doses alcohol may initially produce a sense of relief because of the effect it has on brain chemistry. However, since alcohol metabolizes in the body very quickly, it soon loses its effect.  Plus, as tolerance develops, drugs or alcohol will become less and less effective. Indeed, with regular, continued use of alcohol or other drugs of choice, the chemistry of the brain will gradually change, worsening feelings of anxiety when alcohol and/or drugs aren’t present—even if an individual is not in a stressful social situation.

Once the occasional drink escalates in frequency and volume to appease the aggravated anxiety symptoms, physical dependence can develop.  Attempts to stop or cut back only result in symptoms of withdrawal, which results in an increased preoccupation with obtaining and using alcohol (or one’s drug of choice).

Actually, when an individual tries to cut back, the rebound of the original symptoms only intensifies the discomfort experienced during withdrawal, making it very difficult to stop using.  This often occurs with drugs, such as Valium and Xanax, sleeping medications and drugs used to treat acute and chronic pain.

depression, social anxiety, addictionUnfortunately, many are under the mistaken impression that addiction issues will disappear if the underlying problem is treated:  “If I can find some other way of treating my social anxiety, my alcohol problem will simply go away.” This is seldom the case.  When it reaches this point, the drug or alcohol use has a life of its own and the individual needs to be specifically evaluated and treated for addiction as well as for the underlying psychiatric or medical problem. Failure to treat both inevitably results in continued suffering and worsening health complications.

Wondering if you may have a problem with alcohol addiction? Take this Alcohol-Dependency Self-Test.

For more information about substance abuse treatment, call 877-505-HOPE (4673) or visit RecoverGateway.org.

About Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers
Every year Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment helps thousands of adults and teens get their life back on track and gives renewed hope to those who care about them. With 50 years of treatment experience, our specialists take the time to understand of the specific needs of each individual. We then develop a customized treatment plan with recommendations for the most appropriate care based on an individual's substance abuse and mental health history. As the largest provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment in Illinois, Gateway has 11 treatment centers throughout the state. Gateway outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs are not one-size fits all, but unique treatment plans that give an individual the highest chance for a successful outcome. With insurance acceptance and a track record of success, Gateway Treatment Centers help thousands of individual’s successfully complete treatment each year, and find the hope they need to live again.

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