When most people think of alcohol, they think about parties, good times with their friends, and the opportunity to cut loose. However, for a small section of the population, alcohol becomes a release, and that is where the dangers of both addiction and self-medication come into play.
Understanding the Self-Medication Hypothesis
According to the Self-Medication Hypothesis, drug and alcohol abuse is oftentimes spurred by the urge to self-medicate for a mental health condition. The drug that is chosen by the addict, even if it seems random, is actually calculated to help him or her treat an issue that they are struggling with. According to Healthline, patients will find themselves drawn to a particular drug because it medicates a specific condition that they cannot cope with.
Why Alcohol and Anxiety?
Though the Self-Medication Hypothesis does not produce a list matching possible drugs to mental disorders, there seems to be a clear link between the excessive use of alcohol and anxiety. Anxiety is an issue that occurs when stress begins to overwhelm, and when focus is placed on issues which cannot be predicted, prevented or controlled. A person may have anxiety due to serious issues that are going on in their lives, or they may have anxiety because of a misfire in their brains which tells them to be frightened or fraught because of a specific trigger.
People who have anxiety often find that they feel frozen and helpless, and for people with social anxiety, a condition where social situations make them feel uneasy and upset, this is something that can be triggered randomly. This is where alcohol comes in. Alcohol is a depressant in that it brings down the body’s sensitivity to stimulus. It also relaxes inhibitions and allows people to ignore some of the stresses that have been affecting them. This is something that can make it quite attractive as a quick fix to someone who has anxiety issues.
Why is Self-Medication With Alcohol Dangerous?
While there is nothing wrong with using alcohol to relax a little and to have a good time, a serious issue occurs when it becomes a crutch. People who have anxiety may find that the alcohol stops working in the same amounts. As they build up a tolerance, it takes more alcohol to get them to a point where they are enjoying themselves. This means that they will be more likely to consume larger quantities of alcohol, something that will increase their dependence.
On top of that, alcohol is not something that is actually solving the problem. Instead of teaching the person suffering from anxiety to deal with their issue in a healthy way, it is actually masking the issue. The things that trigger the anxiety are still there, and the person’s response is more or less unaltered. However, what this means is that when the alcohol is gone, the stress remains.
Excessive consumption of alcohol carries its own risks. For example, the strain put on the liver and kidneys are higher, as they are the organs that are in charge of filtering the waste products out of the system. After an extended period of time, alcohol becomes necessary to function correctly, and going cold turkey can actually be dangerous, as it will prompt seizures.
There is also a comparison effect that occurs. When someone with anxiety has been self-medicating with alcohol is not using it, the stresses that they experience will seem worse. They have become used to having a comfortable haze around the way that they interact with the world, and when that haze is gone, everything looks too harsh. This can make it even more likely that they will continue their drug abuse and that over time, it will worsen.
Does Self-Medication With Alcohol Work?
The answer is a resounding NO. The reason why alcohol as a fix for anxiety is so attractive is that it seems like it is working. When someone who suffers from anxiety drinks alcohol, they feel light and carefree. They are not plagued by their anxieties. However, when the alcohol has left their system, they are in the same boat that they were before. They are again dealing with the anxiety, and they have learned no new way to cope with it. Instead, it is only more tempting to reach for more alcohol.
Self-medication of any sort is a serious problem, but alcohol is a legal drug that can easily be acquired. It is considered socially acceptable to consume, and many people do not take it seriously. This can make people with anxiety more prone to falling prey to addiction.
If you, or someone that you care about, are self-medicating with alcohol, it is important to reach out for help. Attempting to self-detox or self-treat this issue may make it worse, and in the case of serious alcohol withdrawal, can lead to serious consequences. If this issue is affecting you, look for trained help!