There are a variety of reasons someone may choose to experiment with using a drug recreationally or drinking an excessive amount of alcohol. Someone may be curious, or bored, or just unthinkingly following the patterns of people around them without really thinking about it. However, in many cases, people might be abusing substances specifically to deal with troubling thoughts and emotions.
Everybody sometimes has thoughts or feelings that feel unwanted, negative, or even scary. For some, feelings of profound sadness, anxiety, or worry can become so overpowering that all their mental energy is spent making it go away, and a normal life feels impossible.
“Self-medicating” is a common way of dealing with those thoughts and feelings, using substance abuse to temporarily numb the pain of a brain that seems hijacked by what feels negative. However, this is not an effective solution. When the high passes, those feelings will return, stronger than ever. Furthermore, repeated use leads to tolerance, so you will need more and more of the drug the same effects that make it easy to cope.
If you are working on recovery, it is especially important to think about what issues or pains you may have been turning to substance abuse to help you cope with. Taking away the drugs means you need to learn how to develop better coping mechanisms that can truly treat and transform your mind, or else you may find yourself with nothing to help. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to pursue your mental healing. Here are some ways to think about going behind the reasons for your use, and treating those root causes, so that you can be well and secure in the present moment.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than half of all people with substance use disorders also have co-occurring mental health issues. These can include depression (lethargy, overpowering sadness, a lack of interest in things), anxiety (fearful feelings or worries that things are going to go wrong), or PTSD (feeling overwhelmed by traumatic events in the past.) You may not readily identify with any particular mental or mood disorder, but there is a possibility that your substance abuse may be connected. By engaging in careful self-examination, you can start to think about the reasons behind your drug use, as well as develop better ways of coping.
Think carefully about what may trigger a craving. What is your emotional state like, and what is your brain telling you the substance use will do for you? Maybe it’s an extra boost of confidence before something intimidating. Maybe it’s a need to escape from something that feels overwhelming. Thinking carefully about the times you used, and what effect you hoped your use would bring. This careful self-reflection is a very important part of recovery, because it helps you get down to the root causes. It may be something you have to do again and again, as you encounter new and deeper levels of your need for full recovery. Journaling, or writing your reflections down, can be an especially helpful way of thinking through these important questions.
Sadly, many people with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues do not get the full, holistic treatment they should. Addiction recovery and mental health are often treated as separate conditions, even when the two are strongly related to each other. Your own awareness of yourself can be the most important tool you have in getting help. Be open and honest with everyone providing your care, and do not stop until you find a counselor, health program, and therapist who can truly give you the care you need. Qualified mental health care providers can help you find better ways of coping, that can help you truly lead a recovered life.