The Self Medication Cycle

BlogArticlesThe Self Medication Cycle

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Self medication a dangerous game.

A mood disorder can be an embarrassing issue to deal with. It is tough to admit that we have a problem and even tougher to seek proper treatment. It is no wonder then, that many people turn to alcohol or drugs to sooth their pain. Whether it be a feeling of anxiety, depression or another difficult emotion it may seem easier to us to turn to the bottle for comfort, and in the beginning of a mood problem the idea of self-medicating with alcohol may not be the worst idea as alcohol can have that desired effect of slowing everything down. But where do we draw the line? A few drinks here and there may offer that “soothing” effect at first, but after a while the drinking can become the go-to solution for solving all of our problems and we lose the ability to cope with things ourselves. Soon our anxiety and depression return, but it takes aim at our new medication: The booze. The mood disorders or problems we were drinking away worsen, as there is a new problem in our midst, the solution itself becomes part of the problem and a strong feeling of shame takes hold. It is now very difficult to discern whether the addiction is our main concern or is it in fact part of the evolution of our initial mood disorder.

“Addicts’ inner pain, shame and loss of self honestly becomes more painful to them, consequently their need to self medicate to drown that inner pain increases. Their use and abuse increases, their pain and shame increases, their hiding and projecting increases.” – Dr. Tian Dayton

In Ann Johnston’s book: “Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women And Alcohol”. She delves into the tricky situation of self-medication. She admits that at one time she was self-medicating with alcohol and reports that women are far more likely to do so as a result of their relationship with mood disorders. Women are far more likely to become depressed, and twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as well as Bipolar II, resulting in far more depressive episodes than men. Ms. Johnston also points out that women are more likely to walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription for a controlled substance than men, which raises the worrisome question: Are some women reluctant to use the pills? And are they combining the medication with their own variety of meds, like booze?

Admirably Ms. Johnston achieved sobriety despite her own pattern of self-medication. With the help of a sobriety/rehabilitation program in 2008 she and other women in the program defeated the disease. But it should be noted that in Ms. Johnston’s book a psychiatrist she mentions speaks openly about the problem: “Substance use muddies the water: it makes diagnosis difficult. Says psychiatrist Pamela Stewart of Toronto’s CAMH: “The art— and difficulty— of this field is to untangle what is caused by the substance and what by the underlying mood disorder.”

Over the course of December we will be exploring some of the issues Ann Johnston raised in her recent book “Drink”. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or concerns we can help you with.

The Self Medication Cycle