We all come to a point sometimes when we need a break. The stress of life can get to be too much, and we find we can’t go on anymore. What we do at those times may actually be critical in determining whether we will develop an addiction problem or not.
Self-Medicating to Manage Stress
It seems too simple, but some researchers are finding that our stress management techniques play a huge role in the development of a drug or alcohol problem or an anxiety disorder. Canadian researchers studied data on 34,653 U.S. adults who took a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism survey. They found that people with chronic feelings of anxiety or stress were more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, and to later develop a substance abuse problem. 13% of people in the study who had consumed alcohol in the previous year did so to reduce stress. One-fourth had used drugs for the same reason. Not only that, but those who self-medicated in these ways were more likely to be diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder by the end of the study.
“People probably believe that self-medication works,” says James M. Bolton, M.D., the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg. “What people do not realize is that this quick-fix method actually makes things worse in the long term. Serious consequences can develop very quickly,” Bolton says. “People can develop alcoholism and anxiety disorders within just three years, and these are illnesses that can have a devastating impact on a person’s health, their relationships, and their financial situation.” (1)
Finding Other Ways to Feel Better
It is still hard to say which comes first, the anxiety disorder or the substance abuse problem, but we do know that self-medicating with substances does not help an anxiety disorder, it only makes things worse. Many people who use drugs or alcohol to manage stress or anxiety do so because they feel they don’t have any other place to turn for help. Others self-medicate because its easy and something they see others doing. Either way, self medicating can be harmful. “I think all of us, whether we’re disordered or not, need to consider the reason why we choose to use alcohol or other drugs,” says Kristen Anderson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Reed College, in Portland, Ore.. “When any of us decide to try to cope with external agents, I think it’s a very slippery slope.”(2)
There are many more healthy ways to overcome stress, such as exercising, talking to a friend, and other relaxation techniques. We should all develop healthy ways to manage stress in an effort to reduce the risk of substance abuse problems and anxiety disorders.