The Dangers of Self-Medicating: Why It Doesn’t Actually Help


An ever-increasing issue that faces the global population on a daily basis is the use of both drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication. As of 2017, roughly 19 million people are dependent on some type of substance in the United States alone.

But why do people choose to self-medicate, rather than seeking the help that they need?

There may be a myriad of reasons behind self-medication, but they do not justify it as a means of self-coping. Instead, it’s a dangerous, slippery slope that can lead to problems with addiction in later life. Learn more about self-medication and the dangers in this blog.

Understanding Self-Medication

There is no exact, scientific reason why people choose to self-medicate. The act of self-medicating is very personal and tied up in trauma, emotion, and other co-occurring disorders

Traditionally, self-medication involves the taking of drugs, herbs, or other home remedies by your own initiative. This is without consulting a doctor or medical professional, first. It is originally a form of self-care in order to maintain your health. 

However, the premise of self-medication has taken a negative turn. Today, it involves the use and abuse of over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs, alcohol, and more.

There are a number of dangers associated with self-medicating. Instead of consulting a professional, many people turn to self-diagnosis and the wrong substances for help. Ultimately, this can only exacerbate the problem, cause new health issues, and lead to addiction.

The Dangers of Self-Medicating 

Yes, the practice of self-medicating is grounded in self-care. But it’s risky business to try and manage certain disorders without professional help. 

Some of the risks involved when self-medicating include:

  • An increased risk of drug or alcohol dependency and addiction
  • You can worsen your condition 
  • You can cause adverse reactions and create new health issues 
  • You could suffer the side-effects of dangerous drug interactions 
  • You could be masking a severe disease that needs appropriate treatment

If you suffer from a co-occurring mental health condition, self-medication is a fast-track way to worsen your mental state. In fact, you may not be able to recognize the effects or consequences of self-medication. This could quickly lead you on a major downward spiral. 

Why Do People Choose to Self-Medicate?

As mentioned, the reasons why people choose to self-medicate are complicated and very personal to each individual. For each person, the typical rationale may not apply. Most of the time, self-medication is used to ”treat” or rather mask the symptoms of various mental health problems. 

Some people turn to self-medication to help them cope. They intend to manage the symptoms of mental health conditions, which are often caused by past traumatic events. Some other common reasons may include:

  • A person cannot afford medical treatment such as doctor’s visits or medication
  • A person may be fearful of doctors and their practices and trying to avoid adequate treatment
  • They may be in denial about a certain condition and trying to hide it 
  • They may fear the side-effects of certain medications used to treat their condition 

The reason a person chooses to self-medicate may not be easy to understand for others. However, it’s crucial that loved ones try to understand their reasoning, before offering them the help that they need.

Mental Health Conditions and Self-Medication 

Mental health conditions and self-medication are intricately connected. More often than not, it’s difficult to decipher which issue came first — the mental health condition, or a self-medication disorder/addiction. 

Some of the most common mental health disorders that go hand-in-hand with self-medication are:

  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety and high levels of stress 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by past trauma 
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The act of self-medicating for those with mental health conditions is especially dangerous. This is because substance abuse, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, can rapidly worsen a person’s mental state. Improper treatment of these types of conditions can lead to severe cases of addiction, self-harm, acts of violence, abuse, and more.

This is why family members and friends must remain acutely aware of a loved one’s behavior. They must take note of their coping mechanisms if they suffer from any of these mental health conditions. 

Common Types of Self-Medication

When a person chooses to self-medicate, they actively choose and seek out certain substances. This helps them to manage, dull down, or escape the symptoms of a certain disorder.

Some forms of self-medication are actually beneficial to your health. For example, when using the right supplements. However, some of the more dangerous forms of self-medication include these substances:

  • Alcohol — this is one of the most popular substances because of its availability and accessibility to all walks of life 
  • Opiates — these substances range from illicit drugs such as heroin to prescription medications such as Oxycodone, Codeine, and more
  • Marijuana — this is one of the most popular substances used by those who suffer from depression and anxiety 
  • Stimulants — also known as amphetamines, they are used to managed conditions such as ADHD and depression 

With all of this information in mind, how can you help a loved one that is using and abusing a certain substance to manage a health condition? The first step is to try and understand their reasons for self-medication. 

Then, you’ll need to stage an intervention. The focus must always be on finding your loved one the professional and medical assistance they need.

Trained healthcare professionals can diagnose your loved one’s condition. They can also recommend the right course-of-action before their self-medication leads to serious addiction or any other major health condition.

Get a New Lease on Life With New Leaf Detox and Treatment

If someone you love is struggling with the issue of self-medicating and addiction, New Leaf offers premium detox, dual diagnosis treatment, and rehabilitation services.

Based in San Juan Capistrano, we offer a sustainable, life-long recovery program to help you get your life back on track. Learn more about our broad range of therapies, here.