It’s an easy trap to fall into: life gets hard, and we look for an immediate way to deal with the problem at hand, and many times, the easiest way is just to numb out the problem altogether. Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings and many people learn that they are dealing with mental illness and turn to health professionals to get help in a healthy way. However, many people don’t realize that they are self-medicating with alcohol.
Alcohol doesn’t seem like a form of self-medication to many, because it isn’t actually a “medication.” However, the effects of alcohol can certainly feel like medication to a person who is experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.  Luckily, there are a few signs that may tell you that you are self-medicating with alcohol, and when you know the signs, you can start on your way to recovery.
Sign 1: You Find Yourself Wanting a Drink Every Night
Sometimes, the difference between casual drinking and heavy drinking is a fine line. It’s no secret that alcohol has calming, stress-relieving effects. Scientifically, alcohol slows the heart rate and causes fatigue in the central nervous system, thus relaxing the body as a whole.  So it makes sense that a person would want a drink after a long day.
However, if you find yourself wanting, or “needing” a drink every night, you may be unknowingly self-medicating with alcohol. If your stress level feels like too much to cope with without alcohol, this is most likely a problem that is more serious than you realize.
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Sign 2: You Feel More Anxious or Depressed Without Alcohol
When people become dependent on alcohol and go long periods without drinking, they begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal, much like with drugs. Alcohol withdrawal can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, increased depression, and more.
In fact, in the long run, alcohol can have a much more negative effect on a person than it does in the short term. Dependency on alcohol, or alcohol use disorder, can increase anxiety and depression because of the withdrawal symptoms. In addition, this dependency causes your tolerance to go up, which requires more alcohol to make you feel any effects – thus, the dependency worsens, and so do the withdrawal symptoms.
Sign 3: You Feel Like Alcohol is the “Only Thing That Helps”
When dealing with mental illness or mental health issues, there are plenty of healthy coping mechanisms to use. However, when a person is self-medicating with alcohol, they feel that alcohol is the only thing that truly helps them to feel better. If you feel that the only way you ever seem to feel any sort of stress relief or comfort is when drinking, you may be self-medicating with alcohol.
Sign 4: You’re Beginning to Experience More Stress Than You Had Before You Started Drinking
When drinking becomes a problem, it begins to affect more of your life than just within the hours of the drinking itself. If you’re saying things you regret while drinking, missing work, or important functions, causing problems among family and friends – this means the alcohol is causing more problems than the problems you intended it to help solve. Therefore, you’re developing more stress than you were even experiencing before you started drinking.
Sign 5: You Deny Clinical Help for Mental Health When Friends and Family Suggest It
If you’re self-medicating with alcohol, you think that’s all you need. You think alcohol is helping when in reality, alcohol is not meant to assist in caring for mental health issues. Many times, family and friends will notice that a person is struggling with their mental health and suggest they get help, but the person will turn it down and insist they do not need help. This, of course, is common, because none of us want to admit we need help.
However, consider asking yourself this question: if alcohol did not exist, would I need help? If your answer to this question is yes, you may be self-medicating with alcohol.
So What Do I Do If I’m Self-Medicating with Alcohol?
The good news is that you can overcome this. None of us are meant to self-medicate – that should be left to the professionals. At Ocean Hills Recovery, we have a dynamic team of qualified individuals who are trained in caring for those with alcohol addiction or alcohol misuse, along with other forms of self-medication.
The other good news is that there are other forms of coping than alcohol. At Ocean Hills, we believe in helping you recover through community, therapy, and a comfortable and safe space to recover and learn how to deal with the hard things life throws your way. Contact us for more information and to start getting help today.
 Weber, Mike. “Self-Medicating Depression, Anxiety, and Stress.” HelpGuide.org, www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/self-medicating.htm.
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATCI). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.