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Uncovering the Causes of Self-Medication

We live in a world with thousands of different kinds of drugs. Some of these are common in our daily lives (caffeine, nicotine) and some are more exotic (ayhuasca). It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, there are many drugs which are available to you, some legal and some not. Drugs have been part of the international conversation for generations, with addiction and dependency topping the charts for relevancy. And even while nations like the Philippines take Draconian measures to curb illicit drug use, other nations around the world are starting to think about drug use in terms of public health and self-medication. It turns out that most people who use drugs do so because they temporarily solve a problem, one which may be physiological.

Anxiety and Lethargy – Common Causes of Addiction


Laptop and coffee

Many of the drugs that we hear about on the news, and find in our own medicine cabinets, can be broadly understood as treating anxiety or lethargy. For people who feel pain (physical or emotional – both contributing to anxiety) there are numerous solutions like Xanax and various pain killers. For people who feel lethargic or gloomy, numerous stimulants are also available, from legal substances like nicotine and caffeine to the various amphetamines and cocaine. While there are other classes of drugs, including the popular psychedelics and entheogens, the stimulants and painkillers/anti-anxieties are the ones that touch our lives most frequently.

The most common reason that sees someone sent to various drug treatment programs is the feeling that such drugs are required for normal functioning (sometimes these drugs have been used so habitually that they become legitimate placeholders in a patient’s metabolism). In some cases, users are compensating for circumstantial problems, like an unhappy teenager stealing Xanax from the medicine cabinet during family troubles. Other times the problems are physiological, like the untreated ADHD patient smoking cigarettes for the stimulation to their sluggish central nervous system. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two, as with the depressed patient who is depressed because he’s out of work and recently divorced, having gotten involved with heroin to treat the feelings of misery.

Most people aren’t able to quit drugs cold turkey without addressing the core difficulty they were using drugs to alleviate. Skilled therapists can learn to discern the difference between circumstantial and biological problems, and the combination thereof. Sometimes it is enough to correct problems that start at home, investing in the happiness and stability of the individual so that drugs are no longer necessary. In other cases, a patient may have legitimate difficulties, learning disabilities, or neurological pathologies. Long term antidepressant or doctor-maintained stimulant therapies can be extremely helpful in these circumstances.

In every case, it is important to understand the patient as an individual with individual needs. It is easy to look at people who use drugs as thrill seekers or as morally abject, but the situation is always more complex. Drug use is a way of reaching out to solve a problem. Until a better solution replaces the use of drugs, most drug users won’t be helped.

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