There are a number of buzz-terms that have a deservedly negative connotation in the world of substance abuse and addiction recovery, and one of these is self-medication. A number of substance abuse disorders may stem from those who attempt to self-medicate, whether in the form of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or even illegal substances in some cases.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, we’re proud to offer a number of caring addiction recovery programs, including prescription drug rehab, alcohol rehab, drug addiction recovery and more. What exactly is self-medication, what are some common examples of self-medication (particularly those that can lead to addiction), and what are the major risks of self-medication? Here’s a key primer to understand.

What is Self-Medication?

As the term indicates, self-medication is the process of treating oneself for a physical or mental ailment without the advice or guidance of a medical professional. In many cases, self-medication will directly follow self-diagnosis, which is also not recommended.

Now, it’s true that in very minor cases, self-medication is not a major issue or even a problem at all. For instance, taking a couple Advil pills to help with a temporary headache is not generally cause for alarm. However, when self-medication starts to become more frequent, more intense or even more experimental, that’s usually when it becomes an issue – and addiction can quickly follow. It will often be used more as a coping mechanism for wider-ranging issues like anxiety, depression, insomnia or chronic pain.

Types of Self-Medication

There are several types of self-medication out there, each with its own set of risks. Here are some of the most common, including several that carry major risks of leading to addiction:

  • Use of expired medication: One of the most common forms of self-medication, using medication after it has expired can be extremely dangerous. Not only is the potency and efficacy of the medication in question likely to have diminished significantly, but there’s also no telling what sort of adverse reaction you may experience.
  • Use of leftover medication: Much like using expired medication, taking leftover medication from a previous ailment is also a dangerous form of self-medication. The same goes for taking someone else’s medication, which can lead to serious health risks and complications, as well as legal issues.
  • Misuse of antibiotics: While antibiotics can serve an important purpose in treating bacterial infections, they are often overused or misused, which can lead to antibiotic resistance – a major global health concern.
  • Inaccurate prescription doses: Yet another form of self-medication that can be extremely dangerous, taking inaccurate prescription doses – whether too high or too low – can lead to serious health risks, including overdose in some cases.
  • Use of alcohol: One of the most common and dangerous forms of self-medication is the use of alcohol. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can provide temporary relief from anxiety, stress and even pain. However, it’s also highly addictive and can lead to a number of serious health problems.
  • Use of illegal drugs: In some cases, people will turn to illegal drugs as a form of self-medication. This is particularly common with mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. However, illegal drugs are extremely dangerous and can lead to addiction and adverse health conditions.

Major Risks of Self-Medication

Here are some of the major risks associated with any of the above forms of self-medication:

  • Substance misuse: One of the most common risks of self-medication is substance misuse. This can occur when people take higher doses than recommended or take medication more frequently than directed. Substance misuse can lead to addiction and other serious health complications.
  • Adverse reactions: Another major risk of self-medication is experiencing an adverse reaction to the medication in question. This can range from mild side effects to more serious health problems like organ damage or even death in some cases.
  • Interactions: Another common and potentially dangerous issue with self-medication is the potential for harmful interactions between medications. This can occur when people take multiple medications at the same time, which can lead to serious health complications.
  • Overdose: One of the most serious risks of self-medication is overdose. This can occur when people take too much of a medication or combine it with other substances, which can lead to serious health problems, including death in some cases.
  • Substance dependency: Finally, another of the major risks of self-medication is developing a substance dependency. This can occur when people take medication more frequently than directed or at higher doses than recommended. Substance dependency can lead to addiction and other serious health complications.

How to Steer Clear of Self-Medication

As you can see, there are a number of risks and dangers associated with self-medication. The simplest approach here, naturally, is to avoid these risks in the first place — but for some, this is harder than it seems. Here are a few tips to help you steer clear of self-medication:

  • See a doctor: One of the best ways to avoid self-medicating is to see a doctor for your health concerns. They can help you identify root cause of your problem and provide you with safe and effective treatment options.
  • Avoid using substances to cope: Another way to avoid self-medicating is to find healthier ways to cope with your problems. This might include things like exercise, journaling or talking to a therapist.
  • Manage stress: Finally, another way to avoid self-medicating is to manage your stress levels. This can be done through things like relaxation techniques, yoga or meditation.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, it’s important to seek professional help. Addiction is a serious disease that can have devastating consequences if left untreated. There are a number of treatment options available, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

For more on this, or to learn about our quality addiction recovery programs, speak to our staff at Moonlight Mountain Recovery today.