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Depression, Stress, Anxiety And Drug And Alcohol Use

- The Art Of Self-Medication

By Chris Cordell

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Dealing with stress, anxiety and depression is never easy at any time of the year but 2020 has bought in additional challenges with COVID-19. And with the latest announcement with many areas of the UK going into Tier 4 lockdown has been just one step too far for many people.

The Centre for Mental Health think tank estimates that 8.5 million adults will need new or additional support for mental health problems as a direct result of the COVID-19. Therefore, it is no surprise that more and more people are turning to drugs and alcohol try to change the way they feel and utilise as a coping mechanism to deal with their stress, depression and anxiety. This is known as “self-medicating”.

While self-medicating may provide some short-term relief, over time it only makes things worse. Whether you turn to alcohol, or drugs like cannabis, ketamine, cocaine etc., or misuse prescription medications such as Xanax, Oxycontin, Citalopram or Sertraline regular self-medication can lead to physical addiction and a worsening of depression and anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts, paranoia and increased physical health problems. Also, those that develop drug and alcohol use disorders are more prone to catching COVID-19 and find it harder to shake it off. Drug and alcohol use can also damage your relationships at home and at work.

Why Do People Self-Medicate?

COVID-19 has bought so many people so much stress and anxiety and with the widespread pressures of financial and employment challenges many more people have turned to drugs or alcohol to block this out or just cope with difficult emotions, stress, and the uncertainty of the future.

In many other areas of life if something is not right you go and see a professional i.e., you don’t feel well so you go to the doctor, or if your have bad toothache you go to the dentist but for many instead of seeking professional treatment it can be tempting to try to cope on your own in the simplest way possible by reaching for a drink, smoking a few joints, having a few lines or using drugs like ketamine. For others they will turn to their prescription meds or turn to the web if they are not prescribed.

However not everyone has turned to drink and drugs due to COVID-19. Other people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with unpleasant memories or feelings stemming from the past, such as unresolved traumatic incidents. Others use alcohol or drugs as a “pick-me-up” to get them through the day or as a “reward”.

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Forms Of Self-Medication

Alcohol tends to be the most common method of self-medication and currently 8.4 million of people in the UK are drinking at levels that are defined as harmful and hazardous levels. Why is it the most common? Well, its legal to start with and to all intensive purposes is seen as socially acceptable. How many times have we told to cheer up by having a few drinks, or just get drunk and forget about things?

The bottom line is that alcohol is a depressant, and according to evidence, the euphoric effects of alcohol peak at around about 3 standard drinks. After this point, the euphoric effects of alcohol diminish while the negative effects go through the roof, darkening your mood into despair and impairing your cognitive abilities to make rational judgements.

Prescription drugs such as Xanax, Oxycontin, Citalopram or Sertraline are often given as part of a treatment regime for depression, anxiety and even pain but more often than not in times of emotional and mental hardship the prescription regime is not stuck too by individuals. Furthermore, with the advent on online prescribing and the dark web getting hold of more of the above is so easy. Before long, many people find they are taking far more than they have been prescribed and more frequently and then find it hard to cut down or stop. In fact, just stopping is not advised.

Illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cannabis, ketamine or stimulants like cocaine and speed and other amphetamines are often used to manage a whole range of emotions, situations, and block out bad memories. Each drug comes with its own psychological and physical drawbacks and consequences which can include heart attacks, psychosis, paranoia, and overdose.

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Signs That You Are Self-Medicating

For the person that is self-medicating it easy to know that you are doing it but for others trying to work out if someone is self-medicating then its much harder, especially when it comes to alcohol as drinking, and even getting drunk to that matter, is often seen as socially acceptable.

If you are using prescribed drugs outside of your prescription regime then you are self-medicating. If you are buying prescribed meds, when you have not been prescribed them in the first place or in addition to your prescription then you are self-medicating.

If are you are regularly drinking or using drugs to cope with stress, depression, anxiety, relieve boredom, improve, or change how you feel then you are self-medicating.

The reality is that it takes more and more “self-medicating” to gain relief because of tolerance to what you are taking. Where once it took just a couple of drinks to ease your anxiety or de-stress at the end of the day, now it takes 4 or more, and it is not uncommon to find the 2 glasses of wine turning into a bottle or two or a few pints to now come with some chasers.

As your self-medication increases so does your problems. What started out as drinking or taking drugs to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression you now have added health, relationships, work and financial problems that your drinking and using has caused to the list.

So how do you cope with this added worry? - take more drugs and drink more alcohol. And by the way you now have also added the worry about running out of drugs or not having enough money to get more drugs or alcohol or buy prescription meds online or on the street.

It’s easy to slide from self-medicating to deal with stress, depression and anxiety into full blown physical and psychological addiction.

Solution

Self-medicating on drugs and alcohol is not the solution. But as we have said before when you’re drinking or using drugs (or both), it’s common to try to rationalize your substance use, deny how much or how often you use, or simply deny that you or you’re drinking or using is creating problems.

Admitting that you’re drinking or using is creating problems is the first step. The next step is doing something about it.

Help Me Stop has been constant in our practice to maintain our standards of care since the start of COVID-19 while ensuring the protection of our clients and staff. The procedures we put in place at the beginning of lockdown have prepared us for any policy changes caused by COVID-19, including the government implementing tighter lockdown rules which was announced on the 19th December 2020.

Under the new Tier rules, it is still legitimate for you to attend treatment or attend an assessment so please do not be put off seeking treatment.

Our Dayhab centre, which is based in Acton, West London, will remain open as usual and of course we have our tried and tested 6 week online service for those that can’t make it into West London.

If you are concerned that things are getting to much and you are hitting the bottle or taking drugs to cope and want to know how get your life back on track, or you are concerned about someone you know then call us now on 0208 191 8920 or jump onto Live Chat/email us directly at https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us

Chris Cordell is Help Me Stop's General Manager and is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and a member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals.

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