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

By Dr. John Larson Corporate Medical Director Gateway Treatment Centers

By Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director
Gateway Treatment Centers

Many individuals stumble into addiction unwittingly by trying to self-medicating, or using a substance to manage the symptoms of an underlying medical or psychiatric problem such as pain, anxiety, or depression.  The substance may be alcohol, an illicit drug, or a prescription medication.  In the beginning there may be short-term relief but as tolerance develops the medication or drug becomes less and less effective.

A common example is social anxiety, or fear of being in large groups, especially when there are lots of strangers.  Alcohol is commonly available and in modest doses it may initially reduce the anxiety providing a sense of relief and even a pleasurable sensation because of the effect it has on brain chemistry.  However, the body metabolizes the alcohol very quickly and it soon loses its effect.  With continued use the chemistry of the brain gradually changes and the feeling of anxiety or nervousness gets worse when alcohol is not present, even when the individual is not in a stressful social situation.  The amount and frequency of use increases and physical dependence develops.  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. A person becomes more and more preoccupied with obtaining and using alcohol or their drug of choice.  This also often occurs with drugs such as Valium and Xanax, sleeping medications, and drugs used to treat acute and chronic pain.

This is often called “self medication.”  Unfortunately many people and even health care professionals are under the mistaken impression that the 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 professionally 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.

The good news is that through integrated substance abuse treatment, a person can begin to understand how their underlying mental health concerns and substance abuse issues are related, to get them the help they need. To learn more about treatment options for substance abuse issues, or our free, confidential consultation, call Gateway today at 877-505-HOPE (4673).

 

 

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.
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