When Self-Medicating Becomes Self-Destructive

When Self-Medicating Becomes Self-Destructive


Alcoholism and addiction are pandemic, keeping pace with and seeking to outrun the COVID pandemic, with people seeking relief from anxiety, uncertainty, depression and fear– to mask the underlying uncomfortable emotions in an attempt to make it through difficult times. It’s often called “the monkey on your back” to use a colorful metaphor describing something that clings to you, and that you can’t shake off. Just when you think you’ve kicked it, it’s back again and you find yourself discouraged, full of shame and even hopeless. It can start in what feels like an harmless act: a college student starts drinking at parties, (remember those?) to deal with social anxiety, or a patient is prescribed a painkiller for a condition that involves legitimate pain. But the student finds she likes how she feels when the warmth of the alcohol envelops her, and before long she’s drinking every weekend, and then a few nights a week. Her grades begin to suffer since she skips classes on the days she’s hung-over, and parties when she should be studying. The patient discovers that the narcotic he’s prescribed alleviates his physical pain, and that he also feels warm and free of other, non-physical problems. His prescription runs out well before the end of the month since he’s often taken more than one every 4 hours. Since the opioid he’s prescribed is a controlled substance, he finds it difficult to convince his doctor that he needs more and more to address his physical condition. After several months, his doctor refuses to write prescriptions and the patient starts buying pills from secondary, sketchy sources and, ultimately,
switches to heroin because it costs less and is easier to get than Oxycodone or Vicodin.

Whatever the substance, people use alcohol and drugs because they work. Yes, they work in the short term to numb unpleasant emotions, to escape from reality or to achieve a feeling of euphoria. But when the high wears off, the problems are still there, and have often gotten worse due to the
consequences of using drugs or alcohol. Addiction is a disease, and it has to be treated with vigilance just like any other condition of the body, like diabetes, high blood pressure or, perhaps most fitting, like the cancer it resembles as it eats away at your life. Addiction is known as a family disease because of the effect it has on the whole family, not just the person who is using.

Substance abuse treatment begins with acknowledging that there’s a problem. So what are the symptoms of addiction? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you tried to stop drinking or using and found that you return to the same behaviors?
  • Have you experienced memory lapses or “lost time” when you don’t remember things that happened while you were drinking or using?
  • Do you find that you need more to achieve the same effect that you once felt when drinking or using?
  • Have you started to experience problems at work, or in your relationships because of drinking or using?
  • Do you find yourself thinking about when you can have your next drink, or about where and when you can obtain more alcohol or drugs?

People with substance abuse issues often feel like they can’t have fun unless their using. They worry that life will be boring as a sober person. The truth is that experiencing life clear-headed and free from addiction allows them to feel truly present and engaged in life, instead of chasing after the next high and stumbling through their days. I know because that is how I felt during my 20 years of alcoholism.

It took a significant and terrifying medical diagnosis to persuade me to stop drinking, and by that time my alcoholism had cost me far more than my health. I had also lost my marriage and had alienated many friends and family members. Rebuilding my life as a sober, grounded, healthy person was so fulfilling and rewarding, even though I was often scared and unsure of how to navigate through life.

There was help available to me, and if you’re reading this post feeling like you need help YOU CAN BE SOBER and FREE from your addiction, too!

In my work as an addictions counselor, I help clients identify what triggers they have that result in drinking or using. Triggers and cravings happen because of emotional discomfort or pain, but you don’t have to give in to your cravings. It’s important to develop a set of coping skills that work for you.

Coping skills are alternatives to using. They are things like talking to someone, engaging in physical activity, meditating or journaling. I can help you form a plan of action that is specific to you, since there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to recovery. Some of the components of a good recovery regimen are things like:

  • Attending support groups like 12-Step meetings, SMART Recovery or Celebrate Recovery
  • Engaging in therapy with an experienced addictions counselor
  • Establishing accountability through letting those close to you know about your plan to get sober
  • Caring for and nurturing yourself through good nutrition and spiritual practices
  • Having a routine and adhering to it
  • Understanding that you may stumble, but that relapse is not failure

If you are struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone. My approach to substance abuse counseling is, first, to provide a safe and nonjudgmental place for you to get honest about your addiction. I will then help you to identify patterns and encourage you to modify those patterns to avoid alcohol and drugs by addressing the people, places and things you need to change in order to establish a stable environment that supports sobriety.

At Life Skills Resource Group, we have counselors for any emotional struggle you may be experiencing. If you would like to talk to someone and start on your road to recovery, call our office at (407)355-7378 to arrange a free phone consultation with me or any of our skilled, experienced therapists.