General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Why do you self-medicate? Or not?

Asked by wundayatta (58693points) April 10th, 2009

I’ve heard that people self-medicate to hide a pain. I know a number of bipolar folks who have self-medicated to combat depression. Usually pot and alcohol. Ironic, because alcohol is a depressant.

I think folks who have experienced horrendous things, self-medicate to keep from remembering those things, or to keep the bad dreams away. I don’t know how well this works.

What I’m wondering is, for anyone willing to say, what horrors have you experienced that you use alcohol or illegal drugs to keep at bay?

For those who have not turned to self-medication in order to deal with the horrible parts of your life, how come you haven’t?

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34 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

The term “self medicate” is a euphemism made up by people who don’t want to admit they are addicted.

Darwin's avatar

I used to drink because of depression (stupid, I know). However, then I had kids and quit drinking because I might need to drive them somewhere in an emergency. I still wanted to drink, though. I just didn’t. Then, I ended up on an SSRI and, miracle of miracles, I still like a drink every now and then, but I don’t crave it at all.

I still crave chocolate, though.

arnbev959's avatar

If I have a headache I’ll smoke some pot. That’s about all though.

wundayatta's avatar

@YARNLADY I first came across the term when a psychiatrist used it. I can certainly see why anyone who is manic or depressed would, if they didn’t know what was going on with their brains, turn to self-medications to attempt to feel better. It starts there. Addiction comes later. I have to strongly disagree with your characterization of the term.

cak's avatar

At the height of dealing with things, I was given whatever I needed to deal with pain. I guess I could have slept my way through the past few years. I was tempted, very tempted, but I guess I watched one too many alcoholics and pill addicts in my family. Honestly, it just scared me too much. There were times when I could have maintained a certain level of comfort, but I was too scared. It wasn’t always the wisest decision.

I’ve talked to you about my sister and her tendency to drink, before. She’s doing much better about resorting to other things, before alcohol. Exercise, writing (she’s really good), painting and calling me. It’s not completely gone for her, but it is slowing down. Watching her was painful and left us scared, all the time. We never knew if we would get the call – she’s seriously injured, or worse. I don’t fear that call, as much, anymore – neither does my mother.

Edited to add: By the way – I understand that self-medicate usually means other sources: drinking, drugs – pot – something other than a prescribed med. However, in my case, I had access to things given to me for one thing, but would have done nicely for other (not what it was intended for) situations. That was what I was toying with.

creativejuices's avatar

I have cluster migraines and when the prescription provides no relief I used to turn to pot to ease the pain. In my situation my head actually felt as if it were going to pop like an over filled balloon, due to my illness I have increased intra-cranial pressure.. so this puts major pressure on my eyes and brain which then turns into a splitting, stabbing, sobbing, migraine. If my normal meds don’t work then I will most def turn to pot for a little relief… and that’s what it feels like… it feels like I’m making more room in my skull so the pressure is able to back off. I know that’s not really happening but when you’re in pain and then get high, the relief it gives you is amazing. It is a shame that it is so useful for so many types of physical and emotional pain, but yet it is still illegal….

El_Cadejo's avatar

I got in a car accident and have 5 bulging disks in my back, 2 in my neck, and a pinched nerve. I have two options for pain management. Opiates or marijuana. Ill take the green anyday.

the good thing about pot though is you can smoke just a little bit and the pain is gone, yet your really not high at all so you function perfectly fine. Just no more pain lol.

creativejuices's avatar

@uberbateman: i found the same thing to be true

Dog's avatar

I respectfully disagree with @yarnlady as well. I can and often do go weeks without a drink but do sometimes use it to relax or calm down when stress is coming at me from all sides.

It is self medicating but it helps me unplug and allows my mind to rest.

In regards to emotional reasons as Dallon posed in the question I am sure most of us have seen emotional trauma worthy of numbing the mind but to drown out the past would take away too much of the present.

So I kid around about drinking, and drink to mellow out, but I no longer drink to chase away the demons of the past.
Because I have learned that trying to drown them only makes the demons more powerful.

@Daloon—is pot a depressant?

YARNLADY's avatar

@Dog I didn’t view what you describe and I do as “self medicating” I simply view it as recreational or social drinking. When professionals use it, they mean addiction, but they don’t want to frighten their patients.

augustlan's avatar

I got addicted to a prescription pain killer when I was a teenager. It was very quick to happen, and my doc recognized that it had happened so he pulled the plug. The experience scared me enough that I was always very careful about self-medicating. Even when I could have really used a drink or a high to help with emotional pain, I didn’t do it. What I did do was to finally get the proper prescription drugs to help me cope with anxiety and depression. I always look at alcoholics and think I could just as easily have gone that route. I’m awfully glad I didn’t.

Zen's avatar

@YARNLADY Disagree about euphemism. I shall explain thus: Euphemism is an inoffensive or indirect expression that is substituted for one that is considered offensive or too harsh.

Self-medication, on the other hand, isn’t that at all. It’s treatment for something, by someone. Just not by a Doctor, unless the Doctor is self-medicating.

madrid's avatar

Im bipolar. Ive had suicidal thoughts since I was 10 years old. For years I didn’t know why I felt that way. I started using pot and drinking when I was 13. I felt great almost normal when I was stoned. I always lived with a cloud over my head. Sometimes it moved away sometimes it stormed on me. Started high school and was introduced to pills, coke, meth and everything else. Whenever I felt bad I used. When I felt good I used too. Time goes by. I steal cheat and hustle to have my “goodies” everyday for years. Fast forward Im 21 years old and smoking crack and shooting anything I can get in a rig. Then using anything for the comedown like pills and alcohol. Im still working a job the whole time. Paying rent. By the time I am an adult my use and mood swings escalate.

Fast forward and Im 25. Still using anything I can get my hands on. I lose my girl, house, job, and car in a weeks time. Still having thoughts a hundred times a day it seems of killing myself. One day I say to myself, “this sucks. ”“I can’t take now more.” I swallow 60 tabs of phenobarbital and drink some booze with the intention of going to sleep and not waking up. Someone found me in my bed moaning. I wake up in the I.C.U. 5 days after I O.D. I don’t know why I lived but I just felt worse. I failed at suicide. I fail at everything. I still hate myself.

I get out of the I.C.U. and stay in the psych ward for 3 weeks. The psych ward sucks.
Im in and out of psych wards,detox, and rehab clinics the first two years after my O.D. I go to a shrink and a therapist. I change meds what seems like a hundred times.

Now Im 30. I have left the hard stuff and booze behind several years. Except for a couple of week long relapses. I still take pills my doc gives me. Sometimes more than Im prescribed. I feel a lot better than I did 5 years ago. The suicidal thoughts are there but not as frequently but it still bothers me. I finally accepted I wasn’t meant to be happy like normal people. I only live because my family loves me and likes having me around. I don’t know why they do because I screwed them so many times. Anyways I self medicate because I don’t like me.

Dog's avatar

@yarnlady I see your point.
If when I am driven to use alcohol I was simply enjoying good food and conversation with friends I would agree that it was recreational.

However for me it is used as a tranquilzer dart for a soul that feels like a raging trapped wild animal. It keeps me from snapping. It keeps me from vanishing off the face of the earth. It buys me the time to re-asess my life and concentrate on the good. Until I see the good again my soil remains trapped.

If I cannot self medicate at these times I think my spirit could break.

cak's avatar

@madridYou really just touched my heart with your story.

Zen's avatar

@madrid Welcome to fluther. Warm, wet jelly hugs.

creativejuices's avatar

@madrid: i know someone in a situation similar to yours, she is bi polar as well and felt that no one could ever love her because she had done too many awful things to those around her. Yes, she turned to drugs and alcohol. I was with her on the night she tired to slit her wrist with a butcher’s knife… when i went to take it away from her and tell her that that was not a solution she put the knife to my throat. I could have backed down at the time but I stuck by her and tried to comfort her in any way I could. The next week she downed a bottle of pills and a bottle of codeine. I was with her in the hospital as she puked up the charcoal they gave her to bring up the poison…

The point is, her life did get better. It was hard going at first, a year or two of slip ups and manic states but she stuck with it. I told her that she was trying to correct a temporary problem with a permanent solution. This did get better.. she is almost finished with her art degree, married with a young son to hold every day. If she had been successful in her attempts she never would have seen the clouds lift to reveal a new her, one with a family and friends who are still there to listen. Just know that you are not alone, there are a great many people who are willing to listen, I am one of them.

mcbealer's avatar

I self-medicated with cigarettes during 4.5 years of my not quite 5 year long marriage.
This may not seem like a big thing, but when you figure that prior to that I had managed quit cigarettes for 8 yrs, well…

For me, nicotine provided a relief big-time, and as @Dog so eloquently put it, they were
“a tranquilzer dart for a soul that feels like a raging trapped wild animal. It keeps me from snapping. It keeps me from vanishing off the face of the earth. It buys me the time to reasess my life and concentrate on the good” I quit cold turkey 12/31/08 with only 1 relapse so far

And yet there are those days, and probably will be for a long time, when life sucks and my mind will ache for nicotine. For me, nicotine provided a reprieve, and the world could melt as far as I was concerned.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I love how people say alcohol is a depressant.. I get it.. sure.. maybe medically.. scientifically.. biologically… it’s a depressant… but by the very definition of “depressant” .. it’s like calling an elephant a gnat. If alcohol went with the definition people wouldn’t use it.. (aside from the select few with psychological issues who actually WANT to be depressed)..

There’s my two cents… as far as my self medication habits… they consist of a bottle of wine once in a while on a friday night followed by a few beers.. it’s ok I guess.. but I know it’s only temporary.. which removes some of the allure of drinking for me..

CasketDance's avatar

Well, you see, after I became bi sexual it was quite easy for me to casually and routinely self medicate. Now any guy who wants me that’s worthy has a shot. Any guy I want I can get if I really work the moves.

I’m kidding, I’m straight and I don’t self medicate.

Unless, that is, you include coffee.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@madrid Bless your heart. Your story is so sad. I hope you find self worth in your life. You obviously have a caring, loving family. Live for them, & hopefully, you’ll come to live for yourself. (((Madrid)))

casheroo's avatar

I think a lot of people “self-medicate”
If I get cramps or a headaches, I take Advil. If I get a toothache, I put some sort of numbing agent on it. If I get a stomachache, I take Pepto or smoke some pot. I also smoke pot to help me sleep, or just for fun.
When going through depression, I felt I knew what was best for my body, but I still got help from a doctor. If I felt a drug was not working, I’d talk to them about uping it or lowering it. I tended to come off it on my own a lot though.

Mr_M's avatar

Hold on a minute! Don’t we ALL self medicate? Sure, generally people think of alcohol and drugs when they think of “self medication” but those aren’t the only two things one could self medicate with. There ARE good things to self medicate with. Some people socialize, some people sleep, some people get counseling, some pray, some go golfing, some watch a good movie, yada, yada, yada. The list goes on.

THIS JUST IN…..WE ALL HAVE PROBLEMS! Everybody! Those that choose to go to drugs or alcohol don’t have it any worse. I think a lot of people, like someone said above, like to say they do as an excuse to use drugs or alcohol then feel sorry for themselves even more.

Garebo's avatar

I self-medicated with GHB I use to go get it cheaply from a most eccentric, ex-navy seal who happened to be going blind; he could legitimately obtain it for his business. This was while it was controlled but legal-the stuff was absolutely pure. After my friend told me about his friend who had it and how great it was; I naturally was curious to try it and loved the affect. Except when I took to much I would pass out or get dizzy so, I adjusted the amount so I was always feeling good and never crossed that threshold. I did this for two years at work, all the time, I could function better because it reduced my anxiety and worry, slept well; it kept my libido amped up all the time. I would not get any side effects, only when I took too much. If it wasn’t illegal, I probably still be using it to this day.

Kelly27's avatar

@YARNLADY I, along with the others above, disagree with your response. Self medicating can eventually lead to an addiction but it is a very really thing and is absolutely not the same thing as addiction, which seems to be what you want to imply.

I will use opiates as an example, “These drugs act in the same way as our natural endorphins do in order to mediate pain, emotional and physical. Endorphins are produced in the brain by the pituitary and the hypothalamus glands, and act as analgesics (pain blockers) and provide a sense of well being. Many people are in fact self medicating when they use opiates for emotional pain. Their diet, their metabolism, their genetics, or emotional circumstances may be placing them in a situation where they are producing a low amount of natural endorphins.”

Opiates are but one example, I suggest you do a little research before you put out such an incorrect “euphemism”/judgment.

aviona's avatar

I smoke weed on occasion, but honestly it fucks me up more. It doesn’t necessarily make me paranoid, but it puts me in my head too much. I end up spinning way worse than if I hadn’t smoked it. I already overthink and after smoking, I completely over analyze every detail of the situation.

In another thread I mentioned that I don’t have an addictive personality. I do, however, drink when I want to escape. Never usually alone, though. I’ll want to “get fucked up” with people, have fun, and forget my worries.

There’s other drugs, too, but obviously pot and alcohol are the most readily available. I’ve done others more for the experiences. When I think back, though, there was a time in the winter of 2007 when I did a lot of drugs, mostly psychadelics. I was on break from school, depressed about a boy, and basically bored and wanting to experiment. So, I guess you could label that self-medication in a sense, since I was just bored and wanting and outlet or an escape. But then again, no one would ever try LSD or psilocybins if they were never bored, depressed teenagers at one point in their lives, right?

YARNLADY's avatar

@Kelly27 read ‘in my opinion’ before most of my answers

wundayatta's avatar

@Mr_M Of course everyone self-medicates. However I was interested in stories by those who self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs. That’s why I specified that in the question.

Mr_M's avatar

I was addressing the second part of your question, i.e., “For those who have not turned to self-medication in order to deal with the horrible parts of your life, how come you haven’t?”

I’m saying “Actually, we ALL do. We ALL self-medicate. Nobody does NOT. Most importantly, we ALL have horrible parts to out life. Only most of us chose “not-so-horrible” self-medications. I would not want anyone to start calling the misuse of drugs and alcohol a “self-medication”. It doesn’t relieve any problems. It causes MORE.

wundayatta's avatar

@Mr_M: a point which is more than adequately illustrated in the answers above. The question I’m interested in is what are the many reasons why people may turn down this particular path.

Facade's avatar

Once I’m of age I’ll probably use alcohol (namely wine) to sleep more often.
Seeing how many people use weed to combat headaches, I’ll be trying that as well If I can learn to smoke it correctly

Coloma's avatar

Mmmm…I enjoy a few beers or wine and smoke pot very rarely…but, yep, once in awhile, mostly as an enhancement of my basic good nature and enjoyment of wandering around in nature.

I have never had a problem ‘habit’ and my moods/personality is not subject to change. I am not an angry person, am cheerful and easy going so a few cocktails or whatever just complements my already happy nature.

I do enjoy a slight high in the evenings hanging out in my hot tub or by my fireplace on the deck before bed. Not an everyday thing, but more so in the summer months for sure.

It’s all pretty transient and no dependancies happening.

I do have a few friends that have had some emotional crisis this year and have made a conscious choice to not imbibe with them at this time as they tend towards maudlin bursts and weepiness…not my idea of a good time.

I am supportive but I am all about fun and good times.

If alcohol churns up your issues best to steer clear.

I also live in wine country so much of my indulgences are because I truly love good wine and micro-brewery ales.

One local place makes the best Scotch Ale ever..oh my…so fattening!

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