What Does It Mean to Self-Medicate With Alcohol, and Can It Cause Addiction?
Depression, pain, and anxiety are some of the many chronic health conditions that can be difficult to cope with and treat. In some instances, the medications and therapies used to treat conditions such as these fail to provide people with the immediate relief they had hoped for.
Alcohol is sometimes used as a home remedy among people hoping to find relief from symptoms, emotions, and health conditions that cause physical and/or psychological pain. However, alcohol is never able to treat the root causes of anyone’s problems and only makes them worse.
Continue reading to learn what it means to self-medicate with alcohol and whether it can lead to addiction.
What Does It Mean to Self-Medicate?
According to a study published in the Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacy, self-medication is defined as using drugs or home remedies without first consulting a doctor. People self-medicate all the time in various ways to care for their health and well-being, which isn’t always necessarily bad. For example, self-medicating may involve using over-the-counter cold medicine to relieve symptoms of the common cold, or drinking a cup of coffee to feel more energetic and alert.
There are some instances in which self-medicating can be extremely dangerous and harmful. For instance, using someone else’s opioid pills to relieve acute back pain could lead to an overdose, especially if the pills are in high, strong dosage and prescribed for someone with a high tolerance. Using alcohol is another dangerous way to self-medicate. Alcohol is a habit-forming substance associated with a wide range of serious health problems when used in high amounts for some time.
Why Do People Use Alcohol to Self-Medicate?
Alcohol is widely available in the U.S., where it can be legally purchased by anyone aged 21 and older. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 55% of people in the U.S. aged 18 and older report having consumed alcohol during the past month. In addition, alcohol is relatively affordable and easy to access, given it is available in millions of households at any given time. People choose alcohol as a form of self-medication for many of these reasons and more.
Alcohol has relaxing, sedative effects that can help people de-stress and wind down. It also produces extreme happiness and euphoria when used in moderation. Alcohol can make someone’s worries, aches, and pains disappear for a short time to help them experience relief. Unfortunately, alcohol’s effects are only temporary and do not offer long-term health benefits for any type of problem.
Can Self-Medicating Lead to Alcohol Addiction?
In short, yes, self-medicating can lead to alcohol addiction. People who rely on alcohol to escape problems, relieve symptoms, or “cure” medical conditions may find that alcohol doesn’t help in the long term. Yet, they may continue drinking as long as they feel alcohol is effective at providing short-term relief.
Drinking alcohol regularly can eventually lead to tolerance. Tolerance is characterized as needing higher amounts of alcohol to achieve its desired effects, or experiencing diminished effects when drinking the usual amount. Those who become tolerant to alcohol often start drinking more to benefit from its pleasurable effects.
After tolerance comes physical dependence. Drinking high amounts of alcohol regularly can cause someone to become physically dependent. Dependence is characterized by the onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing alcohol or drinking lower amounts or drinking alcohol for the sake of avoiding withdrawal symptoms.
People face a greater risk for addiction when alcohol use becomes a normal part of their daily routine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.”
People who suffer from addiction may start neglecting important responsibilities, so they can devote more time to drinking. They may be unable to stop drinking despite having a desire to quit and trying to quit several times. They may also keep drinking even if they know alcohol worsens their problems and contributes to new problems.
What Is the Treatment for Addiction Caused by Self-Medicating?
Addiction and alcohol dependence caused by self-medicating can be safely and effectively treated with medication-assisted detox and behavioral therapy.
Medication-assisted detox is the first stage of treatment and helps people recover from physical dependence on alcohol while facing a reduced risk of complications. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous without professional medical treatment, as it can lead to dehydration and seizures. However, people who receive detox at a treatment facility have the benefit of being closely monitored by nurses and doctors as they go through withdrawal, and are given medications and nutritional supplements that reduce symptoms and boost their immunity. The goal of detox is to keep patients safe and make them feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal.
After detox, patients enter an alcohol rehab program to receive behavioral therapies that help them change harmful behaviors related to self-medicating with alcohol. Doctors, counselors, and therapists often work with patients to identify why they started using alcohol to self-medicate and then customize treatment plans accordingly to address those root causes. For example, if a patient started drinking alcohol to avoid symptoms of PTSD, they may receive trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, or other therapies to treat and manage PTSD using methods other than drinking.
If you or a loved one is using alcohol to treat any type of problem, getting help today can reduce the risk of dependence, addiction, and worsening health. Contact The Haven New England today to learn more about your treatment options.