More than half of people with substance use disorders also have a mental health issue. Common dual diagnoses include depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia. Many people with these disorders will try to mask the symptoms with drugs or alcohol. This works temporarily, but in the long run, it makes things worse. Not only does it not address the underlying condition, but it heaps another problem–addiction–right on top of it. Many people don’t even realize they’re self-medicating for the simple reason that they aren’t aware of having a mental health issue. Many mental health issues are widely misunderstood. For example, many people are unaware that irritability, insomnia, and physical pain are among the most common symptoms of depression. It’s also very common for doctors to misdiagnose bipolar disorder as unipolar depression, which typically results in ineffective treatment. Some people are not aware that they have ADHD. That may be hard to believe, but ADHD is underdiagnosed in girls and women. On the other hand, borderline personality disorder is underdiagnosed in men. If you are not aware of having a mental health issue, then you don’t think of your substance use as self-medicating. The easiest way to tell if you are self-medicating is to pay attention to when you drink or use drugs. If certain circumstances make you feel like you need to drink or use drugs, it may be a sign you are self-medicating. For example, if you are intensely anxious at parties and feel like you need a few drinks to relax, you may have social anxiety disorder. If stress is making you feel overwhelmed and hopeless so you decide to have a drink, you may have depression. If nightmares keep you from sleeping unless you take a Valium, you may have PTSD. In short, if drugs and alcohol help you cope with a specific problem, you may be self-medicating. Another way to tell if you are self-medicating is if your substance use ends up making you feel worse. Alcohol, for example, can relieve anxiety and depression for a few hours, but ultimately it only makes them worse. It makes you anxious and irritable, it damages your health, and it may make you do things you regret later. You may end up drinking just to feel normal. If self-medicating were a sustainable solution, it would just be called “medicating.” If you find that you drink or use drugs to cope with a specific problem, consider seeing your doctor. Tell her what’s been going on and be as specific as possible. If there is a mental health issue, your doctor can make a preliminary diagnosis and refer you to a mental health specialist.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.