Self-Medicating for Depression May Hurt Rather Than Help

It’s true: We all do things now and again to help us feel better. But when a person repeats those behaviors in an attempt to manage depression, improvement may not be the result.

Self-medication for depression can take many forms; drugs or alcohol may immediately come to mind, but food, stimulants, caffeine and other substances and behaviors also are on the potentially dangerous list. It’s not such a long road from once-on-occasion to dependence—or to a cycle that can be hard to escape.

“At the very least, drugs, booze, gambling and so forth take you out of yourself,” wrote Marc Lewis, PhD, in a blog for Psychology Today. “They focus your attention elsewhere.” These self-administered substances and behaviors may rev up excitement and anticipation of reward, he notes, or they may quell anxiety directly by lowering activation of the amygdala (a part of the brain involved with emotions and decision-making).

At first, these choices may feel like gaining control or simply doing “something” about not feeling right. As is the case with many mental health conditions, however, expert help might be needed.

Compassionate, insightful care can allow the self-medicating person to gain a fuller understanding of the detrimental cycles of dependency and the dangers of losing the ability to cope in healthier ways. As dependency turns to addiction, feelings of failure, shame, ineptitude and anxiety may increase, ultimately worsening the person’s depression rather than helping it.

Some view self-medication as a response to mental illness; others believe self-medication can lead to symptoms of mental illness. Regardless, if you or someone you know continues to turn to substances or behaviors in an attempt to overcome depression, Haven Behavioral Healthcare stands ready to help. Depression doesn’t have to be faced alone.




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