Self Medicating – The Theories of Addiction

Self Medicating – The Theories of Addiction

What is Self-medication?

The first image that comes to mind when we hear the term substance abuse is hard drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, among others. Those of us who do not use these drugs may look at people with mental illness due to drug abuse with some level of self-righteousness. As it turns out, we could be abusing drugs just like they do. Any time you take a medication you bought over the counter because you are anxious, or maybe you are drinking alcohol due to depression or stress, you are as guilty of self-medication as anyone else.

The Self-Medication Hypothesis

This hypothesis is one of the theories of drug addiction. It suggests that initially, a person may have good reasons for self-medication but eventually develop a dependency on a drug. They are unable to handle stress emanating from the circumstance due to the lack of robust social support systems in the form of friendships and family relationships. 

The self-medication hypothesis appeared for the first time in medical journals in the 1970s. It is at this time that doctors realized that a majority of heroin users started using the drug as a way of coping with stress and loneliness. This theory gained even more credence when clinicians recognized the similarity between prescription medicine and recreational drugs.

The similarities continued to become apparent because some patients developed a dependence on the medicine they used even after they healed from their condition.  

The third reason why the self-medication hypothesis has gained traction over time is the realization that marijuana has medicinal properties. Over the years, the assumption has always been that weed was a recreational drug and nothing else. 

Once the medicinal properties of weed were discovered, medics concluded that people who smoke weed could be self-medicating, after which they develop a dependency on marijuana.

A compelling case that is still under investigation is where people who have schizophrenia seem to have an affinity for marijuana. Marijuana has some elements that help in the management of psychotic breaks. Could medicating schizophrenia be the original intent of people with schizophrenia when smoking weed to reduce psychotic episodes? Whatever the case, self-medicating mental illness is a bad idea.

Predictably, this hypothesis sharply divides opinion. It is almost as divisive as the medical model related to substances, alcohol, and behavior.  The theory is supported by people dealing with addictions and the professionals who help them. There are people on the other extreme of the spectrum who consider this hypothesis a hiding place for people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. 

Clinicians who treat people for addiction find this hypothesis a good way of getting their patients to transition from drugs to which they are addicted to more mainstream methods of managing their conditions. An alcoholic who initially sought alcohol to manage anxiety would be provided with alternatives to alcohol for anxiety. 

Forms of Self-Medication

Self Medicating

Self-medication comes in different forms, including self-medicating with food and other types of substances. It is a form of substance abuse that becomes a form of self-soothing when you feel stressed or anxious. The following is an overview of some of these.

Self-Medicating with Stimulant Drugs

These drugs are mostly used for self-medicating depression. They also feature prominently among people self-medicating anxiety. These drugs are preferred due to the euphoric feeling they cause. Some of the common stimulants used for mental health problems are cocaine and amphetamines. 

While cocaine and amphetamines lift the user’s spirits for a little while, they bring users to a new low when the effects of the drug have worn off. Ultimately, instead of reducing symptoms, cocaine and amphetamine users find that the two drugs exacerbate depression

It is worth noting that cocaine damages the body’s cardiovascular system, which can easily lead to a sudden heart attack. Amphetamines, on their part, increase the heart rate exposing the user to the possibility of getting a stroke. Besides health issues, both drugs are illegal, and they reveal the user to problems with the law.

Self-Medicating with Central Nervous System Depressants

As the name suggests, these drugs slow down the Central Nervous System, including the brain. They achieve this by inhibiting the neurotransmitter Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. Results of this inhibition to the body include relaxation, less social inhibition, and drowsiness.  A person seeking to self-medicate for ADHD is most likely to go for this option. Another possible group of people who would take this drug is those self-medicating for bipolar disorder. 

Owing to their effects, many people use CNS Depressants against insomnia, stress, panic attacks, pain, and anxiety. Drugs that fall in this category include sleeping pills. Self-medicating with alcohol also falls under this category.  One of the outcomes of these drugs is an addiction. Depressants may also suppress the CNS in ways that may be hard to reverse.

Self-medicating with Marijuana

The use of marijuana is more widespread among people with depression and other mental conditions than any other drug. Studies indicate that some aspects of marijuana help relieve depression. Products such as CBD oils, gummies, capsules, and vape oils can be of assistance.  

Self-treatment with weed, especially using the whole plant, particularly the strains that have high THC content, however, is likely to increase the user’s depression in the long run. High THC content marijuana is also illegal in many jurisdictions, and its use may cause you to run the law afoul.  

Substance Abuse and Medical or Mental Health Disorders

To self-medicate when dealing with a mental disorder usually leads to dual diagnosis, which is also referred to as a co-occurring disorder. Over and above the already tricky life caused by the mental condition, addiction makes it even harder for the patient to operate.

A person may go ahead and put themselves on medication for substance abuse. These conditions usually exacerbate each other, with the mental health issue increasing as dependency increases. For instance, self-medicating to deal with stress is likely to leave you depressed in the long run, and the cycle goes one.


Why do people self-medicate with all the expertise available to them? There are many wellness products in the market today. Many of these products may be helpful to a condition in the short term. You should avoid the temptation of taking them without the input of a medical professional. A clinician’s information helps you see beyond the current relief and avoid possible pitfalls from self-medication in the future. You should avoid illegal substances altogether.

Dwight K. Blake Written by: Dwight K. Blake

Dwight was a Mental Health counselor at Long Island Psychotherapy & Counseling in Westbury, New York for more than 15 years. He believes that CBD is the prime solution to this mental illness and more-- with proper research, medical acknowledgment, and application.
Through his work at AmericanMarijuana, together with the rest of the team, he wishes to provide everyone with genuine results and high-quality product reviews for everyone to enjoy for free.

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