Are You Self-Medicating for Anxiety?

Are you self-medicating for anxiety?

Sometimes, you may not even notice that you have anxiety. You might think those small habits that are coping mechanisms are normal. But they could be self-destructive. That’s why it’s important to take a step back and assess if you’re self-medicating as a result of anxiety.

Anxiety Defined

Anxiety is a term used to describe dread or worry, especially regarding an unfamiliar or stressful situation. For instance, a person may worry about the future of their children and whether they’re good parents. If the worry is excessive, it could be considered anxiety.

Another example is worrying about your job or financial well-being. For some people, their nervousness relates to social situations. Some people are people, pleasers because they’re afraid others will become upset, so they go above and beyond to do for others. The thought of disappointing people triggers anxiety for them.

If these scenarios sound like you, it could be anxiety. Some specific signs you have this condition include the following:

  • Nervousness
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness and tension
  • Trembling
  • Sense of danger or panic
  • Feelings of weakness or fatigue
  • Concentration problems
  • Inability to focus on anything besides worries
  • Difficulties with sleep and relaxing
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Avoidance

Ways You Might Be Self-Medicating

You might be self-medicating and not even realizing it. Activities that might seem harmless, such as drinking a nightly glass of wine or two to calm your nerves after work, might be masking your anxiety. If you drink a few glasses of liquor before bed each night to go to sleep, that’s a form of self-medicating.

On the other hand, perhaps your usual routine after work is to use marijuana to calm down. While it may be legal in some areas and even dispensed in a prescription form, using marijuana to soothe yourself can be an unhealthy habit.

Misusing drugs is another way people try to calm their nerves. You may feel that doing a few lines of cocaine with your friends to be a bit more talkative is normal. But you could be doing it to release stress and ease your social anxiety.

You might be using a sleep medication to fall asleep each night, but what if you catch yourself taking more than the recommended dose? What if you use it long before bedtime?

Dangers of Self-Medicating for Anxiety

Excessive alcohol use can cause you to do things you usually wouldn’t. When you drink and drive, you put yourself and everyone else on the road in danger. Also, if you drink too much, you could suffer from a seizure or other consequences.

Even if you’re not drinking too excess, drinking alcohol regularly can lead to health problems from repeat usage. For instance, if you’re using alcohol every day, your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease rises. You’re also increasing your chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

Large amounts of alcohol are known to cause digestive problems and liver disease. Continuous alcohol exposure increases your risk of certain cancers, including liver, breast, throat, and rectal cancer. Heavy drinking can also increase anxiety and weaken your immune system.

Drug abuse can cause a major medical emergency, such as unconsciousness, a lower heart rate, breathing problems, or a heart attack. It could also prompt you to engage in activities you normally wouldn’t.

Furthermore, when you abuse a substance, it could lead to addiction, which can produce several unpleasant consequences for your health, relationships, and finances. If you abuse drugs for a prolonged time, the substances could damage your liver, kidneys, heart, and brain. Drug abuse can also increase your risk of certain cancers, such as breast, ovarian, or colorectal cancer.

Healthier Ways to Combat Your Stress

Instead of self-medicating, take steps to decrease your stress in healthy, non-destructive ways. For example, start exercising regularly instead.

If you usually drink a few glasses of wine after work every day, take that time to go for a walk and receive some fresh air and exercise. Spend half an hour or an hour riding an exercise bike. Physical fitness stimulates the release of endorphins, which are feel-good hormones. Exercise provides a natural high (feeling of euphoria) and can also help combat anxiety.

Consider practising yoga. It may reduce your anxiety because it’s a time when you can focus on something other than your troubles. By combining yoga with mindfulness practices, you can concentrate on your breathing and movements instead of fretting over things you can’t control.

Make sure you receive enough rest. If we’re not rested, we could become anxious, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Not enough rest can cause a vicious cycle, no matter which came first:

  • If you don’t receive enough sleep, you might develop anxiety.
  • Anxiety may make it difficult for you to fall asleep, and this cycle may continue.

Make it a priority to get enough sleep. As a general rule, healthy adults usually need between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly.
If making healthy changes isn’t enough to manage your anxiety, find help. Organisations such as Counselling in Melbourne can help you explore the sources of your problems and better manage your anxiety.

Anxiety can be a debilitating problem. While self-medicating can ease your symptoms, it’s a temporary fix that could be taking a toll on your health. Ideally, you should take steps to manage your anxiety better, and that may mean finding counselling or other assistance.

Sources

mayoclinic.orgAnxiety Disorders
niaaa.nih.gov – Alcohol’s Effect on the Body
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Alcohol Rehab in Colorado Springs, CO
pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Exercise and Anxiety

 

About the editor, Pam Zuber

Pam Zuber, Editor. Author/Content Writer, Sunshine Behavioural Health
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