Burnout and Stress
If you have been out of treatment for some time, it is common to feel burned out, or tired of doing the same thing. You might even believe that you can handle having one drink to manage your stress. When thoughts to self-medicate with substances arise, it is time to take action and turn to support.
An Easy “Solution”
Stress is a normal reaction to difficult situations, however, you may not know how to cope with and manage your stress in a healthy way. You might choose to “self-medicate” as a way to calm down through the means of using substances.
While this might temporarily make you feel better, it does not help in the long run. Self-medication can become the start of a very dangerous cycle of substance misuse.
Self-Medicating With Substances Is Dangerous
It is easy to slip into the cycle of addiction, especially when your initial usage feels reasonable. You might not be aware that you have developed a problem because, from your perspective, substance use relieves the stress temporarily. After a while, you begin to rely on the substances as a way to deal with the stress. Due to the nature of the substances, it is harder to function without them than with them.
Recognizing a Problem
If you self-medicate, you might not realize that you have developed an addiction. It is a lot easier to justify use if it is for something that seems innocent enough. Using once or twice to calm down might seem fine, but when it becomes a problem, it is easier to stay in denial.
If you or your loved one has these symptoms, they may have developed a substance use disorder:
The substance is taken in larger amounts or longer than intended
There have been unsuccessful attempts to cut down or quit usage of the substance
A large amount of time is spent trying to acquire, use, and recover from the substance
There is a strong desire to use the substance when you are not using it
Usage of the substance has gotten in the way of work, school, and home responsibilities
You have continued to use the substances, despite negative effects on mental and physical health
You have used the substance during dangerous situations, such as while driving or operating machinery
Using substances has had a negative impact on your social life
You have developed a tolerance for the substance, causing you to need to use the substance in higher amounts to get the desired effect
You experience symptoms of withdrawal when you are not using the substances
How you scored can determine how serious your substance use disorder could be. The presence of two to three symptoms is a sign of a mild substance use disorder. The presence of four to five symptoms is a sign of a moderate substance use disorder. The presence of six or more symptoms is a sign of a severe substance use disorder. In the cases of moderate and severe substance use disorders, medically-assisted detox is recommended and may be medically necessary.
When quitting certain substances, such as alcohol, it is dangerous to quit cold turkey. Abstaining from alcohol without medically surprised detox could result in life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal. Additionally, quitting without the assistance of treatment can be unsuccessful because of post-acute withdrawal syndrome, also known as PAWS.
The Healthier Alternatives for Stress Management
While it is common to self-medicate, there are many ways to deal with stress that do not have a long-term effect. Here are a few coping strategies that you can try:
#1: Body Check-Ins
Regular body check-ins can allow you to look for signs of stress in your body. Body scans can let you know if you are holding tension in your body, allowing you to slow down and take a breath. Look for tenseness in your neck and shoulders, as well as in your jaw.
#2: Mindfulness Exercises
Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are just a few mindfulness exercises that can help alleviate stress. Tai Chi in the morning can be a fantastic start to your day, letting you carry a sense of peace. Meditation can be an excellent way to take time for yourself and is easy to practice if you only have a few minutes. Yoga can be practiced at the end of the day as a way to wind down during an after-work routine.
#3: Self Care Routines
Sometimes when things become stressful, you might put aside self-care. Taking time to go the extra mile can be a way to alleviate stress. Taking a bath at the end of the day can give you a moment of much-needed peace.
#4: Lean On Your Support System
Reaching out to others can be a healthy way to alleviate stress. Friends can offer support and advice, or be an open ear if you need to vent out frustrations. If you have a sponsor, they can be someone to call upon if things feel like too much.
#5: Talk to a Therapist
During your weekly or bi-weekly sessions, you can discuss things during the past week that have been stressful. Talking to a professional about your frustrations and stress can be beneficial because they can offer an outside perspective, as well as coping strategies that might fit your specific situation. A therapist can also provide additional advice on ways to limit the stressors in your life and point out toxic situations.