Self-medicating is when an individual is able to turn to alcohol or drugs to achieve temporary relief from their problems. In many cases, the individual won’t even realize that they are dealing with any type of mental health problem; they just know that when they abuse alcohol or drugs they feel better. Blogger with bipolar disorder, Natasha Tracy, says, “We turn to drugs & alcohol to fill the gaps that healthcare treatment & psychiatric medications just don’t fill.”
Self-medicating is extremely common with those who struggle with mental illness. It can numb the pain, silence voices, soothe insomnia, calm anxiety, ease depression.
“I get why you would drink if you had uncontrolled bipolar disorder. The pain is unreal. The amount of suffering is indescribable. The agony that one lives with is something that only people with mental illnesses can understand. And I totally get why drinking would seem like the way of dealing with your bipolar disorder. If you didn’t know a better way, if you weren’t medicated, if you weren’t treated, I totally get why being drunk makes sense” (Natasha Tracy).
In bipolar II patients, 48% had a substance abuse or dependency, 21% had alcohol dependency, & 18% abused alcohol. As high as 47% of people who have a mental health condition will abuse alcohol or drugs. About 56% of bipolar patients experience drug or alcohol addiction at some point, about 46% were addicted to alcohol, & 41% abused drugs &/or were addicted to drugs. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among bipolar individuals.
People with bipolar disorder often have abnormal levels of serotonin, dopamine, & norepinephrine. These chemicals affect vital functions like appetite, metabolism, sleep, response to stress, mood, & emotions. Everyone experiences intense sadness, anger, & excitement at some point, but, for someone with bipolar disorder, these episodes are all-consuming & uncontrollable. Whether aware of the need to stabilize moods or not, it’s common to turn to substances for relief.
Using addictive substances in the short-term can be effective but leads to bigger problems. The self-medication theory of addiction suggests that self-medicating leads to addiction. Once the individual realizes that these substances give them some relief they can start to abuse them more & more. This eventually leads to a situation where they are both psychologically & physiologically dependent on the substance. They will be unable to imagine life without their chemical crutch, and if they try to quit they will experience withdrawal symptoms.