Are You Self-Medicating with Drugs or Alcohol?

Published On: July 5, 2023

In general terms, self-medication refers to when an individual looks to treat a physical or mental health disorder by themselves.

Rather than seeking the help of a doctor and receiving prescription medication, they seek their means of remedy.

Often, this term can be used to describe people who take over-the-counter painkillers for headaches or take time off work to shake off an illness, but there is a much more serious definition when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

In this sense, self-medication refers to when individuals consume excessive quantities of a substance to treat their health problems.

Doing this carries a great deal of risk with it, and there are many reasons why individuals are pushed into this unhealthy behaviour.

Give us a call at 0800 111 4108 for more help and information.

Why Would Someone Want to Self-Medicate?

Mixing Pills

Self-medication is a tricky topic to unravel, and finding an answer as to why people do it is not easy. It can be argued that few people consciously choose to begin self-medicating, and the process occurs from a more natural, unconscious recognition of it helping.

At the most basic level, individuals use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate when they deem it to be the most suitable way of dealing with a physical or mental health problem.

These substances produce a ‘high’ in the brain when taken, relieving stress and pain for a time.

When the pain or stress returns when the substance’s effects wear off, individuals are then inclined to use it again. Of course, not everyone who has a health issue self-medicates, and there are many risk factors which influence how susceptible one is to doing it.

Why are Some People More Prone to Self-Medicate than Others?

Teenage boy walking down road with backpack, head down

The risk factors affecting an individual’s likelihood to self-medicate are numerous, and there can be multiple factors at play for any single individual.

Below are some of the most common risk factors which push people towards self-medication.

1. Financial problems

Getting medical treatment can be expensive, and if an individual needs serious or consistent operations or physical therapy, being able to afford the necessary help can be impossible.

For those with financial issues weighing on their mind, alcohol can feel like an easy replacement for treatment. It can be cheaper and much easier to access, and the short-term effects can make authentic medical support seem overpriced and pointless.

2. Upbringing

If an individual is raised in a household where recreational drugs or alcohol are used to treat physical or mental problems, they will likely grow up to believe the same.

When individuals encounter health problems, their experiences as a child will inform their recognition of drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication, and often such ideas will cause them to ignore the option of authentic medical care altogether.

3. Genetic predisposition

Addiction is a condition strongly influenced by an individual’s biomedical makeup. The inclination to use drugs or alcohol can be genetically written into people, and this can be triggered when medical problems arise.

Those with a family history of drug or alcohol abuse can find themselves more ready to use drugs or alcohol in the face of physical or mental health issues and, thus, be less inclined to stop this usage in exchange for prescribed medication or treatment.

teen drink 3

4. Lack of risk awareness

Alcohol is very present in our day-to-day life, and its usage is a large part of celebration rituals. Drinking it can seem like a good idea to many, and the benefits of drug use can lead individuals to think they are good for helping combat medical problems.

If these same individuals are not educated as to the risks and dangers of prolific substance use, they will be much more likely to use them regularly as a means of self-medication.

5. Poor understanding of the problem

Similar to not knowing the risks of drug or alcohol use, individuals can be more likely to self-medicate if they do not properly understand the health problem they are experiencing.

For example, if an individual does not understand that they have suffered a serious bone break and use alcohol to numb the pain, they will only continue having to use it since the problem will never become lesser.

Give us a call at 0800 111 4108 for more help and information.

How Can You Tell if You Are Self-Medicating?

Girl sat at desk in library

While easy to define, self-medication can be difficult to identify in an individual’s real life. They might use drugs or alcohol as a means of relaxing or having fun after a stressful day at work, but what is the difference between recreation and self-medication?

Below are some of the most common signs that an individual is using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate:

  • Using drugs or alcohol at the same time every day
  • Using drugs or alcohol as a pre-emptive measure of symptoms
  • Using drugs or alcohol to treat several symptoms, such as anxiety and depression
  • Family and friends became concerned about both your substance use and health problems
  • You experience intense stress when the effects of your drug or alcohol use do not numb negative symptoms

Depression and its Connection to Drugs and Alcohol

teen drink 2

One of the most common mental health conditions that individuals use drugs or alcohol to treat is depression. It has a strong connection with substance abuse, but why is this?

When an individual develops depression or experiences depressive symptoms, they can be inclined to use drugs or alcohol as a way to alleviate the problem. The likelihood of them doing this will depend on whether they exhibit any of the risk factors outlined above.

Depression is a condition which becomes intensified immediately after the effects of these substances wear off. Especially when it comes to alcohol, hangovers bring depressive symptoms to a new intensity, resulting in strong cravings for substance use to return.

Give us a call at 0800 111 4108 for more help and information.

Young people and Self-Medication – Why Are They So Vulnerable?

Teen in forest looking down

When young people develop health conditions – especially those affecting mental and emotional health – they are highly likely to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. But why is this?

In recent years, research has indicated that young people are more likely to self-medicate due to a lack of knowledge about medications and the effects of different substances [1]. Unlike a lot of adults, they do not understand the risks associated with misusing substances.

However, there are so many other factors which can contribute to this fact.

Young people experience a lot of new things, and with their hormonal changes going on, the prospect of using drugs or alcohol can be exciting. Using them to make themselves feel better, therefore, is much more likely at this stage of life.

Additionally, teenagers can often lack the ability to explain what they are suffering from. They might be unable to articulate that they have an anxiety disorder or trauma and, therefore, can struggle to get the medical help they need. Substance use can therefore seem easier.

The Risks and Dangers of Self-Medicating


Using drugs or alcohol as a means of treating a physical or mental health condition is problematic, but what exactly are the dangers of doing so?

There are a variety of risks posed by this behaviour, as well as more immediate dangers.

1. Self-diagnosing the wrong problem

One of the biggest risks of self-diagnosis is individuals misinterpreting their problem. Without medical advice, they can miss symptoms of a certain problem or mistake the symptoms of one condition for those of another.

This can result in individuals treating themselves for something they do not have – meaning they are consuming excessive quantities of drugs or alcohol for no reason – and missing the real problem.

2. Increased long-term damage

Ultimately, drug and alcohol use only numbs the symptoms of a problem rather than treating it. Coupled with the misdiagnosis referenced above, failing to treat the problem at hand will inevitably lead to the problems becoming worse.

With physical health problems, this can lead to serious damage being done to the body. Whether it relates to bones, organs, or muscles, problems can develop to such a point that treatment down the line will not be able to reverse the damage done.

With mental health symptoms, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol only leads to an intensification of the problem over time. Anxiety, depression, trauma – they will all become worse, resulting in symptoms eventually becoming constant.

3. Dangerous mixing of substances

When individuals self-medicate, their priority is numbing the symptoms of their health problem. What they might not consider are the implications of what they are using and how such substances might interact with one another.

It is widely known that mixing substances, such as different drugs with alcohol, can boost the sedative or pain-relieving effects an individual feels. That self-medicating might feel inclined to do this to handle increasingly intense symptoms.

However, mixing substances can be incredibly dangerous. It can cause organ damage, make breathing more difficult, and trigger comas.

A woman taking a white pill

4. Personal and financial problems

As drug or alcohol use becomes a pillar of an individual’s everyday life, they will begin making sacrifices to ensure they are never without access to it.

As a result, individuals can begin spending large amounts of money on substances, resulting in financial problems which affect their family relationships and quality of life. In addition, they may reduce the quality of their relationships by being constantly under the influence.

5. Risk of becoming dependent

Taking drugs or drinking alcohol regularly increases the risk of the mind and body becoming dependent on them to function.

Chemical processes within the body can become reliant on certain drugs after being exposed to them for so long, and an individual can also begin thinking and feeling as though consistent substance use is the only reason they can function in everyday life.

6. Putting a stop to self-medication – how does treatment help?

Identifying when an individual is self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is all well and good, but what can be done about it?

When someone seeks support for their self-medication, it comes in the form of treatment, which focuses on their misguided thoughts surrounding the substance in question and its effects on health.

7. Shifting your perspective

First and foremost, treatment will try to correct an individual’s beliefs surrounding substance use and the idea of self-medication. Their behaviour will be fuelled by the misconception that they are benefiting from it, so this must be challenged.

Discussions in this regard can focus on the biology of substance abuse and how it worsens physical and mental health over time, or it can focus on the health problem and identify what kind of treatment it requires, as well as how substance use is making things worse.

8. Finding alternative coping strategies

Simultaneously, treatment will attempt to replace the unhealthy beliefs an individual holds with alternative strategies for how to cope with their problem in a healthy, sustainable way.

A lot of the time, this will involve educating an individual as to what treatment or prescription drugs they require and pointing them in the direction of attaining it.

Three people writing at a table during therapy

9. Taking care of the body

What cannot be overlooked is the physical aspect of an individual’s self-medication. In many cases, they will likely have developed some form of drug dependence and, therefore, will not be able to quit with ease.

In these situations, addiction support professionals will be able to guide individuals through a detox which enables their bodies to gradually adjust to being sober without triggering withdrawal symptoms.

Give us a call at 0800 111 4108 for more help and information.

Identifying the Warning Signs of Addiction


Those who self-medicate using drugs or alcohol are at an incredibly high risk of becoming addicted to those substances, but how are you to know when a dependency has developed? What are the signs of a substance use disorder?

Substance use disorders can develop in unique ways, and each person can have their signs and symptoms of suffering.

Some of the most common warning signs, however, include:

  • Using increasing quantities of a substance over time
  • Using a substance more frequently over time
  • Mixing substances to achieve the same effects
  • Losing interest in friends and hobbies
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Talking about a substance or obsessing over it
  • Falling into financial hardship paying for a substance

Support from Rehab 4 Alcoholism

Two women talking

If you are concerned about your substance use, or you believe someone you know might be self-medicating, get in touch with us at Rehab 4 Alcoholism. Our dedicated team are on hand to offer you help and support.

If you need information about drug addiction or treatment options, or simply just someone to talk to, give us a call at 0800 111 4108.




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