Self-Medicating to Deal With Stress

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.

 
Stress can feel overwhelming and hard to handle. Stress is common for many different people, but it is important to find healthy ways to cope that do not involve using substances. Many turn to a drink at the end of the day, but it can easily turn to multiple drinks as the stress gets worse. It is better to find healthier alternatives that nourish you, rather than mechanisms that are destructive.

There is also a chance that by choosing to self-medicate, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to get outside help. Stress can come from our environment, but other times it can come from undiagnosed mental health disorders that are making stress that much worse. It is better to look into stress and what the underlying cause could be instead of covering it up with a few drinks or more.

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to cope, call (435) 222-5225 today.