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Published on August 24, 2020

Self-Medication: What it is, and How to Seek Help

Many people with diagnosed behavioral health problems have used alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms. “Self-medicate” is a commonly used phrase for this. Although the definition is fairly clear, our understanding of what self-medicating looks like in the real world is vague. The American Addictions Centers define self-medicating as abusing substances such as drugs or alcohol “to mask symptoms of a mental health issue.” Let’s break that down further.

Imagine that you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. Perhaps out of nowhere, you occasionally feel a sense of hopelessness or lack motivation to do much of anything. Maybe it’s a real effort to laugh or even smile at a friend’s joke. In those moments, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to think: I need a drink. If you usually enjoy yourself when you go out drinking with friends, you say to yourself, why not? I’ll have a drink now to cheer myself up and have some fun.

Not a Good Way to Help Yourself

But here’s the thing: Alcohol is a depressant – it’s likely to make you feel even more depressed. So in fact, self-medication is a misnomer.
When you try to mask a potential behavioral health problem with alcohol or another substance, you’re likely hiding that problem from yourself as much as anyone else. Alcohol and drugs may make you feel better in that moment, but not for long. And when you come down after that high, you’re likely to become even more distraught. This is not a good way to help yourself.

About one third of those who have a behavioral health diagnosis misuse alcohol or other substances. It often takes treatment to overcome both. That’s why it’s important to check in on your behavioral health just as doctors recommend you get an annual physical to evaluate your physical health.

Consider taking a screening today to find out if you would benefit from taking a closer look at your mental health or substance use. This online screening is free and confidential. Bryan Medical Center has a large continuum of mental health and substance use treatment services available.
Learn more about the Bryan Independence Center.
Learn more about Bryan mental health services.

dave miers

About Dr. Dave Miers

Dave Miers, PhD, is director of behavioral health services at Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

He helped establish the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition in 1999 and chaired/co-chaired this Coalition until 2017. He currently serves on the Board of Directors. Dr. Miers is a member of the leadership group for the Lincoln/Lancaster County Suicide Prevention Coalition. Dr. Miers has published research and co-authored a chapter in the Routledge International Handbook of Clinical Suicide Research focusing on family survivors of a child suicide. Dr. Miers helped develop the Lincoln Lancaster Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) team in Lincoln, Neb. He also helped develop other LOSS teams in Nebraska and is active with LOSS team development on a national level.

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