Dangers of Self-Medicating with Drugs and Alcohol

Legacy Healing Center Blog

Many people use prescription or illicit drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. They may not realize the dangers that come from self-medication while others continue in spite of the risks. It’s important to understand what happens when you self-medicate and what could occur if you continue. You should also be aware of the alternatives, such as addiction treatment, to help you deal with whatever issue you are self-medicating for.

What is Self-Medication?

Self-medication occurs when the person decides to use prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or even alcohol as a response to problems or issues in their lives. These situations may cause them emotional stress or even physical pain, such as an abusive home. They may use self-medication to help them handle extreme or ongoing stress¹.

For instance, a person may drink alcohol to unwind after a hard day at work. They may use drugs to calm them when they are feeling anxious. The person may have a couple of drinks before they go to a social event or get up in front of everyone to give a speech.

What are the Forms of Self Medicating?

There are numerous forms of self-medication even beyond drugs and alcohol. One of the main substances used is alcohol for self-medicating. Marijuana is also popular with CBD products have developed in popularity as states legalize the use of these items. Opioids and prescription pain medication are also used for self-medicating¹.

Besides, these typical forms of self-medication, people may turn to food, sex, or gambling. Anything can be used as self-medication, but some forms are more dangerous than others.

What Happens When You Self-Medicate?

Self-medication can lead to a dependence on the substance you are using. In the beginning, the substance you are using can provide what you feel are positive results. You may believe you can control how much and how often you turn to the drug. However, they can start to control your life quickly. You may need to use more just to get that feeling you’re seeking².

If you continue to use the drug, you may have a hard time to control your use even if it starts to cause you problems or fails to provide the relief you seek. You may start to take more of it, which is the early sign of addiction. You will often find that the drugs worsen the condition instead of helping it. For instance, a person may drink alcohol to help them feel better, but it ends up making them depressed.

What are the Dangers of Coping with Alcohol and Drugs?

Many people don’t see the harm of self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. They may rationalize it and say they are just trying to relax or need an extra dose of courage. What they fail to realize are the dangers that come with self-medicating. The biggest danger is dependence on drugs or alcohol. They get to the point where they need their form of medication to help them cope.

When a person becomes dependent on a substance, they turn to it whenever they need extra help. This dependency can lead to addiction where they cannot stop consuming the substance¹.

Signs Someone is Self-Medicating

Self-medicating doesn’t turn harmful immediately. The harm usually comes over time, but there are signs of self-medicating to watch for: 

  • The person begins to feel they need their coping mechanism anytime they are feeling stressed or anxious. 
  • They worry whether they will be able to access their medication of choice and make detailed plans to maintain access.
  • The person begins to refuse to perform their activities without self-medication. Often, the self-medication starts to make you feel worse instead of providing the relief intended. Friends and family may express concern about the behaviors¹.

When Mental Illness and Drug Addiction Go Together

Dual diagnosis is the term used for people who suffer from a mental health issue and an addiction. This often happens because the person tried to self-medicate to feel better from their mental health issue. They may use the substance to hide their illness or to disguise the symptoms from others³.

The challenge in this situation is that the form of self-medication may exacerbate the symptoms of the mental illness. It also increases the chance that they will continue to use the substance. It can also be challenging to diagnose both conditions since they often overlap⁴.

Treatment for Self Medication

If you have been self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or have a loved one showing signs, you need to know that treatment is available. There are better options for handling whatever issues you’re dealing with than turning to drugs or alcohol.

You can get help for your dependence on self-medications at Legacy Healing Centers. The treatment specialists will show you a better way to deal with anxiety, stress, or other situations. If your self-medication has turned into drug or alcohol addiction, our team will help you stop using the drugs or alcohol.

If you need to go through detox, we provide supervised or medical detox to assist you with the process. We can provide medications to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. Once you complete detox, we will have a treatment plan for you.

Legacy Healing Centers offers inpatient and outpatient treatment, followed by ongoing and aftercare options to help you maintain your recovery. We provide group therapy and individual counseling to help you develop the tools you need to handle your problems without turning to alcohol or a drug. We provide alternative treatments, such as hypnotherapy treatment, to help you get the results you need to move forward with your life.

How to Find Help

You can find a better way to deal with your mental or emotional issues, and we want to help you discover it. Contact us at 888-534-2295 to find out the next step. Our treatment specialists are here to answer your questions and to assist you in beginning your recovery.


  1. Clay Behavioral Health Center. (August 12, 2021) Am I Self-Medicating?
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (July 2020) What is Drug Addiction?
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. (March 2021) Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders.