Self-medication is the action of treating one’s pre-existing and distressing problems with a substance he or she deems effective. In most cases, self-medication is done through the use of damaging substances ranging from alcohol and marijuana to cocaine and heroin. While these substances may lessen or mask symptoms, their effects are only temporary and will only end up worsening the condition along with causing additional problems later on.
The problem of denial
People who make light of their consistent substance consumption may call themselves “functional alcoholics” in need of some “liquid courage” now and again. This is an example of denial. In fact, there is a lot of denial associated with this type of destructive behavior. Celebrities can be the worst perpetrators of this illogical treatment plan. Actors like Johnny Depp claim that the use of substances are controlled and are only utilized to “calm the circus” in their minds (International Business Times, December 2014). However, this “circus” can actually be a serious medical condition that not only requires evidence-based treatment, but also must be addressed and controlled by a healthcare professional specialized in treating mental or behavioral dysfunction. Demonstrated first-hand by late artists and performers like Amy Winehouse and Heath Ledger, medicating oneself with an addictive substance can certainly bring on the opposite effect.
The most significant side effect of self-medication is the masking of an underlying disorder with a new one. In most cases, the substance is used to treat symptoms that bring the person pain or discomfort. While for some this may be just mild nervousness or a headache, for others it could be intense sadness which is actually caused by depression or extreme anxiety related to bipolar disorder. To make matters worse, a reinforced need to repeatedly using drugs as treatment will lead to an additional disorder: substance addiction.
From self-medication to addiction
Unfortunately, a person can quickly slide down a slope of declining self-control with continual self-medication. While this behavior may start with experimentation, an individual afflicted with by a mental health disorder or associated problem will end up developing a faulty rationalization that the substance effectively lessens or alleviates the condition. This satisfactory, yet short-term, solution reinforces the behavior and begins a sequence of gradually escalating doses and binges to continue to get the effect they desire to treat the condition. Once the process gets to this point though, a person becomes trapped by an addiction, a problem with its own set of devastating symptoms.
The need for dual diagnosis treatment
Once both a pre-existing mental disorder and addiction are present in an individual, managing one’s general health becomes much more difficult. In some cases, a person may not be aware of the previous disorder and only seek treatment for the drug addiction, when and if they decide to go into recovery for their addiction at all. If the person only treats one side of the overall issue, he or she will still be left with the symptoms that caused the other problem, leading to vicious cycle of relapse. All sources of an individual’s psychological, emotional and behavioral dysfunctions must be addressed simultaneously to be effective. This scientifically-supported practice, in contrast to self-medication, is called dual diagnosis.
In the recent decades of their development, dual diagnosis treatments have made great progress with people who have had trouble recovering from mental illness or addiction. Across California, many treatment centers and facilities have been established to bring a safe and stable life to those who seek help. These programs seek to identify and treat any and all co-occurring conditions, reducing the risk of relapse and increasing each person’s ability to maintain recovery.
At the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline, our staff of specialists is dedicated to connecting individuals with quality dual diagnosis services. If you or someone you care about is suffering with both a mental disorder and a substance addiction, please call us at 855-980-1736.