Can You Self-Treat Substance Abuse?

Written By: Care New England on June 8, 2021

While the stigma for receiving treatment for mental health ailments might be in decline, fears of judgment might prevent some from seeking treatment for issues with substance abuse. Given the complexity of addiction, there is no need to 'white knuckle' one's way through quitting drugs or alcohol. Although it's certainly possible to stop consuming drugs or alcohol, we do not recommend self-treatment for several reasons. The most important reason is that some drugs and alcohol have devastating withdrawal symptoms.

Why Withdrawal Requires Medical Care

Did you know that withdrawal from alcohol can be lethal? Many people assume that since alcohol is legal for people of age, it's not that big of a threat to the public. The truth is alcohol, accessible nearly everywhere, has a huge impact on one's health. While most people consider alcohol less dangerous and substance abuse to be more narcotics-related, alcohol withdrawal deserves mention along with the others. 

According to research in Healthline, "When you drink daily, your body becomes dependent on alcohol over time. When this happens, your central nervous system can no longer adapt easily to the lack of alcohol." If your central nervous system cannot function without alcohol, you begin to enter Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). When your body has become dependent upon alcohol, AWS is serious and causes hallucinations, fainting, and seizures. It is a physical dependency, so self-treating through mental health exercises will not cut the severity of the issue. In rare cases AWS is fatal, so it's best to undergo it under medical supervision. 

Furthermore, there's also medication available to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal. 

While withdrawal from alcohol is considered quite severe since it can be fatal, the impact of ceasing hard drugs can also be dangerous and emotionally taxing. Other drugs and toxins have severe withdrawals, a methamphetamine user undergoes extreme fatigue, dehydration, and changes to their body that make them physically ill as well. Heroin, prescription pills, and other recreational drugs also have damaging physical side effects and psychological troubles for those wanting to quit. We have compiled a list of common withdrawal symptoms from The Very Well Mind below. 

Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Nauseousness 
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems 
  • Tremors
  • Extreme anxiety and agitation 
  • Vomiting 
  • Chills or sweating
  • Fevers
  • Delirium
  • Coma
Detox Under Medical Supervision 

Since the symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal are pervasive and severe, we do not recommend that someone quits without medical intervention. Instead, many facilities provide detox or an environment where someone can undergo the psychological and physical symptoms of withdrawal safely and be monitored with trained staff and technology. For example, quitting a benzodiazepine addiction from a high dosage has caused rare instances of comas. Likewise, low blood pressure can be extremely dangerous. Several of the physical symptoms of drug withdrawal are best treated in a medical facility where lives can potentially be saved in harrowing cases. 

Secondly, the psychological symptoms of drug addiction and quitting the drug of choice can be dangerous for both users and their loved ones. Many people become dependent upon drugs to self-medicate and change their feelings artificially when it is beyond their means to cope, such as cases of extreme trauma.

The average person may not have access to therapy or even have a supportive network in their lives. Without a constructive means of resolving their psychological conflicts, people often turn inwards and use drugs. They use drugs as a coping mechanism to continue with their routine in life, such as work, school, or other obligations. Eventually, there is a tipping point where the drug or alcohol use causes more pain than it masks. It might be that the individual has now developed legal issues or trouble with their employers. 

Due to the psychological nature of alcohol and drug addiction, we recommend that people do not go through it alone. Often, they do not have the resources and many of their peers or family might also be dependent on substances, as cases do not develop in a vacuum. As the person goes through the emotional impact of drug addiction, which can include depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, etc., we highly recommend treating this in a medical facility. Following that, a person can enter a treatment program and go through the process of quitting with other people who share similar struggles. 

Do you or a loved one struggle with alcohol or drug addiction? Contact us today for help and to learn about your options.

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