There is sometimes a great interdependency between the abuse of alcohol or drugs and mental illness, especially depression.
This connection can make it difficult to diagnose the true problem because the symptoms get confused and some of the symptoms of the real issue can be masked. In fact, many times undiagnosed depression is the underlying reason for the substance abuse problems. If the depression could be treated and controlled, it would be much easier for that person to control their alcohol use.
However, if you do see a doctor, it can take a very long time to work with your doctor to get the proper medication, at the proper dose, etc so that you can finally feel some relief. People who work with their doctor sometimes decide that it’s not working, or it’s not working quickly enough and they turn to self medication.
Why People Self-medicate
However, one of the big problems in this arena is that people are reluctant to get treatment for depression, or they don’t know that they are depressed. In those cases, you may not want to see a doctor to determine what the problem is, and instead you will begin to self-medicate in the hopes that it will make you feel better.
Other times you may avoid seeing a doctor for depression because of the misguided believe that there is still a negative connotation associated with depression. You may be too embarrassed to admit that you are having a “mental problem”.
For all of these reasons, many people who suffer from depression end up “treating” themselves. Usually, this “treatment” includes using, and then abusing drugs or alcohol. The result is that you now have both depression and a substance abuse problem.
Methods of Self-medication
Self-medication of any kind can be dangerous because is prevents you from getting real treatment from a real doctor. Here are some of the most common forms of self-medication that you should be aware of.
Alcohol can be dangerous because it can give the initial result of successfully treating depression. However, it can quickly and easily change from occasional use to alcoholism. Of course, that makes treatment for the depression and treatment for the alcoholism much more difficult because you have to figure out the cause and effect between the two.
Other popular items that people use for self-medication is drugs that work as stimulants. This can include things like cocaine and amphetamines. While these types of drugs do provide a temporary feeling of euphoria, it is short lived and eventually leads to an even greater depression.
Clearly, in addition to the self-medication masking the depression, its use can become life-threatening. Cocaine use can cause heart failure and can severely damage your cardiovascular system.
Many people believe that using caffeine to self-medicate for depression is perfectly acceptable because of the “pick me up” it provides. However, that high is temporary and it can also lead to a lower-low when it wears off. Caffeine shouldn’t be used to “treat” depression.
Some people also use the nicotine in cigarettes to help manage their depression. However, research shows that there is a relationship between depression and smoking so it could actually make the depression worse.