Last Updated on February 10, 2020
Fighting addiction is rarely easy, and it can be especially hard if you drink to self-medicate. This is not an unusual situation to be in, and it can make finding the right treatment both confusing and discouraging. We’ve heard from people who have kicked their physical dependence on alcohol, only to start again because of grief, depression, anxiety, or a range of other struggles that seem to be hard to manage otherwise.
We can’t claim to offer solutions for all the reasons that people self-medicate here, especially in such a short space. However, we will outline a mix of strategies that, in the right balance, can help you overcome dependence on alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Common Reasons Why People Self-Medicate
There is no need to be discouraged or ashamed if you are self-medicating with alcohol. The truth is, you are far from alone. At this point, many studies have confirmed the role that self-medication plays in alcohol addiction. And although it receives an unfair level of stigma, mental and emotional health is also a common thing to struggle with.
Consider that most people will have to deal with grief at some point in their life. PTSD is also unfortunately common, with a significant number of Americans surviving domestic abuse, wartime military service, or traumatic accidents. Then there are the many people struggling with depression and anxiety, or job-related stress and physical pain.
If you need more convincing, look at these statistics:
- 7.1 percent of all U.S. adults experienced a major depressive episode in the past year
- 6.8 percent will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lifetimes
- A staggering 31.1 percent of Americans will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives
The point of this isn’t to paint a dark picture of American life, but to establish that if you are suffering mentally, emotionally, or physically, there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are in good company. And in a culture where drinking is often socially condoned and easily accessible, you are far from the only one managing their troubles with alcohol.
Finding the Right Solution
What can be difficult for those who self-medicate is that alcohol dependence operates on several levels. Physical addiction may seem to improve from one type of treatment, but the emotional and psychological aspects may remain. The opposite can be true as well.
The best approach for people who are self-medicating with alcohol may be a combination of strategies, customized to the needs of the individual. These can include medication for alcoholism, mental and emotional support, and finding new methods of self-care.
Medications for Alcoholism
While prescription drugs for alcohol use disorder mostly focus on physical dependency and cravings, they can form a very useful foundation for broader treatment. Naltrexone, for example, can remove the pleasurable effects of drinking, and help you gradually teach your body not to expect anything from alcohol. Acamprosate can reset chemical imbalances in your brain that can make you depend on alcohol to regulate your nervous system. Others, like gabapentin and topiramate, can help reduce anxiety and other drinking triggers, while making you less interested in alcohol.
None of these necessarily remove the issues motivating you to self-medicate, but they can help to reduce the other factors. This can allow you to focus on solving the underlying problems.
Mental and Emotional Support
The next step is to find one or several support systems that work for you. Many people benefit from recovery coaching, which essentially gives you an experienced ally to check in with. Coaches can help you formulate plans and stick to them. They can also direct you to the right resources, and help you be objective about your progress. Another popular option is joining a support group. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most famous of these, but there are also online groups, as well as secular options like SMART recovery. No matter which community you choose, it can make a big difference to speak regularly with others facing similar challenges.
Finally, wherever you are in the process, it may be a good idea to see a therapist. Changing long-held beliefs about yourself, or coping with submerged trauma, is much easier with some guidance and support. Therapy may not always be accessible to everyone who needs it, but telemedicine is starting to change things. There are now a number of apps that let you skype with a doctor, and many of them offer therapy as an option.
New Approaches to Self-Care
Possibly the hardest part of giving up self-medication is facing the pain that alcohol has been covering up, and finding new solutions for dealing with it. It would be impossible to list all the possible strategies here, but many involve a practice of self-compassion. Beginning a mindfulness practice, or adopting some positive reinforcement strategies for yourself can help shift how you manage long-term challenges.
At its root, self-medicating with alcohol is a coping strategy that seems helpful on the surface, but actually causes damage. The long-term goal is to build strategies that genuinely help, and allow you to move forward to a better life. These can include a daily meditation practice, new strategies for managing insomnia or anxiety, and even prescription antidepressants. Any strategy that helps you to be healthier and happier in the long run is worth trying
Ending Self-Medication for Good
In summary, there are many strategies available to help you stop self-medicating with alcohol. The best solution will often be a combination of several, letting you manage the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of addiction as necessary, and giving you strong all-around support.
If you aren’t sure how to get started, Ria Health offers many of these options in a very accessible form. Using telemedicine, you can gain access to medical counseling, prescription medication, recovery coaching, online support groups, and digital tracking tools, all from the comfort of home. Ria’s program is accessible through your smartphone, and is even covered by many insurance plans.