Are You Self-Medicating Depression?

There is a range of types and combinations of treatment services that have been proven to be effective for the treatment of moderate to severe depression. From different styles of therapeutic intervention to holistic treatments to medication, most patients who undergo treatment for depression and stick with it, making adjustments and changes as needed, will find a new sense of balance and an ability to manage symptoms.

Unfortunately, many patients do not seek professional care for their symptoms. Too often, they believe that what they are facing is “normal” and not something that requires treatment, attempt therapy but find that it is ineffective on its own, or believe that they can handle the issue by “self-medicating” (the practice of using legal or illegal drugs and alcohol to moderate mood).

Is self-medication a practice that works? Is it something you are doing to manage emotional ups and downs?


If you choose to take drugs that alter your state of being when you experience uncomfortable emotions, you are self-medicating. This can be the relatively normal choice to have an alcoholic beverage at the end of a long day or a stressful week, or it can mean smoking marijuana, popping painkillers, or using other sedating drugs throughout the day to manage stress.

If this sounds familiar, you are far from alone. Many see this practice as far easier than “interviewing” therapists until they find one whose style works for them and beginning the often long process of trying different medications, doses, and combinations until finding the right one.

And it is easier. But it is far from effective. Too often, trying to manage your emotions with unregulated mind-altering substances is a gamble at best and a total failure at worst. Drugs and alcohol alter the level of “happy chemicals” in the brain, making it more difficult, not easier, to manage your emotional ups and downs on your own.

There is the risk of physical dependence in addition to the risk of developing a psychological dependence on the drugs – that is, cravings for the substance coupled with a feeling that it will be impossible to feel better without their use. Continued compulsive use of these substances will almost always lead to an addiction, which in turn will cause an avalanche of problems of its own that are equally as devastating as the depression disorder.

Does Use of Addictive Drugs Ever Work?

Some experts opine that the use of opiates may actually be beneficial in the treatment of severe depression and anxiety in patients who do not respond positively to other treatment options – with heavy monitoring and consistent and frequent support. However, studies suggest that there is an increased rate of early death due to cardiovascular problems when opiates are used for any purpose, and many medical organizations are taking steps to make opiate prescriptions even for chronic pain management a last resort due to the risks of overdose and addiction.

Treatments for Depression

If self-medication is not the best route, then where should people struggling with depression begin the process of creating an effective treatment plan for themselves? It is important to recognize first that there is no overnight quick fix. People do best when they recognize that depression treatment is a step-by-step journey – one that will play out over months with increasingly more positive results along the way. Though everyone’s experience will be different, in general, it is recommended that those who are living with depression:

  • Seek immediate intensive inpatient help if suicidal thoughts or behaviors are an issue. Do not wait months, weeks, or even days for an appointment if you are thinking of committing suicide, have a plan to commit suicide, or have attempted to take your own life. Contact a hospital or helpline immediately for inpatient care.
  • Connect with a therapist. You can take the time to call a few therapists and ask questions about their style of treatment, but many will ask that you come in for an initial appointment to better understand what it is you are facing and how best to proceed. Because treatment is highly personalized, few will be able to give you a detailed treatment plan projection over the phone, and it is important on your end that you meet in person and see if you feel comfortable talking with this professional.
  • Be prepared to make changes. Your first therapist may not be the right therapist for you, and that is okay. There is nothing wrong with meeting with multiple therapists before making a decision or making the choice to work with someone new if it doesn’t feel like a good fit after a few weeks.
  • Consider medication. Some people have no problem with the use of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications while others would rather avoid them. Initially, these medications can be useful in quicker stabilization (within a few weeks), but if you prefer not to use them, ask your therapist about holistic options and other coping mechanisms.
  • Be open-minded. Lifestyle changes that feel extreme at first and/or holistic treatments that sound “odd” may not be your first choice, but they could be the unexpected clincher to your symptoms and empower you to better manage how you feel.

Treating Depression and Addiction

If you, or your loved one, are living with depression as well as an addiction to drugs or alcohol – whether due to self-medication attempts or not – it is important to seek treatment for both disorders at a program that offers treatment for co-occurring disorders. This dual focus on both disorders is the best way to provide for quicker stabilization as well as long-term health and balance in recovery.

Learn more about your options in treating depression and addiction today. Call Greenhouse now.

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