Signs That You Are Self-Medicating with Alcohol

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 06/10/2024

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (719) 602-0914 now.

Updated 06/10/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Self-medication with alcohol carries significant risks, including the potential for substance dependency and exacerbation of health issues.
  • Individuals may use alcohol to cope with emotional distress, potentially leading to substance use disorders.
  • Alcohol as a stress reliever can disrupt the body’s stress response systems, leading to increased stress and dependency over time.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to serious health risks, including liver disease, cardiovascular issues, and various cancers.
  • Self-medicating with alcohol can mask underlying health conditions, delaying proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Healthier coping strategies include therapy, medication, exercise, mindfulness, and social support.
  • Professional mental health support offers structured guidance and can mitigate risks associated with self-medicating behaviors.

What Does Self-Medicating with Alcohol Mean?

Self-medication is the use of substances, including alcohol, to treat self-diagnosed conditions or symptoms.

YouTube video

While self-medication can be driven by various factors such as convenience, financial limitations, or a sense of autonomy over one’s health, it is a behavior that carries significant risks, particularly when it involves alcohol.

What Risks Does Self-Medication with Alcohol Present? 

Research indicates that self-medication can lead to drug-induced diseases, increased public health expenditure, and the risk of developing a substance dependency. Some of the effects of self-medication with alcohol lead to poor physical health, while others can trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions. 

The Physical Health Risks of Self-Medicating with Alcohol 

Some of the most concerning physical health problems self-medication with alcohol can cause include:

  • Increased tolerance and greater dependence.
  • Masking the symptoms of other health problems, making treatment more challenging. 
  • Disruption of the body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is responsible for regulating stress responses.
  • Disruption of your neurotransmitter balance.
  • Interfering with prescription medications. 
  • Increasing your risk of liver disease and cardiovascular issues.
  • Weakening your immune system.
  • Disrupted pancreatic function.
  • Increases your risk of mouth, esophageal, threat, liver, and breast cancers.
  • Weakened bones.
  • Increased risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The Mental Health Risks of Self-Medicating with Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is also associated with a number of mental-health risks, including:

  • self-medicating behaviors can escalate into full-blown addiction
  • Disrupting your ability to manage stress over time. 
  • Exacerbating the symptoms of existing mental health disorders.
  • Increase your risk of suffering depressive disorders. 
  • An increased risk of alcohol dependence and addiction. 

What Are Some of the Signs That You’re Self-Medicating with Alcohol?

There are several signs that can serve as clues that you may be self-medicating with alcohol. Some of the most common include:

  • Consuming alcohol during inappropriate times or events, such as at work or during family functions.
  • Using alcohol to suppress difficult emotions.
  • Reliance on alcohol to cope with daily life.
  • Anxiety, agitation, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, nightmares, tremors, hallucinations, or seizures.
  • Behavioral changes, such as neglecting responsibilities or engaging in risky behaviors.

We offer physician-led treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in Colorado. Call us today to speak with a Recovery Advocate for free about your treatment options.

Why Do People Self-Medicate with Alcohol? 

Modern clinicians use something called the self-medication hypothesis (SMH) to explain why people self-medicate with alcohol. 

First developed in the 1970s by Dr. Edward Khantzian, the self medication hypothesis suggests that individuals may use substances like alcohol to alleviate things like physical pain and a variety of forms of psychological distress, including stress, anxiety, and depression. This contrasts with earlier notions that posited that addiction was simply about the pursuit of pleasure or the result of weak will.

Which People Are Most Likely to Self-Medicate with Alcohol?

While anyone can stumble into a pattern of self-medication with alcohol, it is more common among some demographic groups. A few of the groups that most are most likely to self-medicate with alcohol include those suffering from:

  • Mood disorders (MD)
  • Anxiety disorders (AD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

In fact, studies suggest that between 21.9% and 24.1% of people suffering from mood or anxiety disorders self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol. 

It’s important to note that people of all sexes, races, and age groups are susceptible to self-medicating with alcohol, and a 2013 study found that incidence of the condition “did not appreciably vary” between groups.  

Healthier Coping Strategies as Alternatives to Alcohol Self-Medication

Individuals who self-medicate with alcohol may find temporary relief, but this practice can lead to further complications including the risk of addiction and exacerbation of mental health issues. 

Thankfully, there are various healthier alternatives to managing distress without resorting to alcohol.

  • Therapy: Engaging with professional mental health services, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or other forms of counseling, can provide effective strategies for managing negative emotions and stressors.
  • Medication: Under a doctor’s supervision, certain medications can treat underlying mental health conditions, reducing the perceived need for self-medicating with alcohol.
  • Exercise: Physical activity is a potent stress reliever and mood booster due to its ability to increase endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like mindfulness and meditation can enhance emotional regulation and decrease stress levels.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Changes: Maintaining a balanced diet, ensuring adequate sleep, and establishing a stable routine can improve overall well-being and reduce the urge to self-medicate.
  • Social Support: Building a strong support network of friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Creative Outlets: Engaging in creative activities such as art, music, or writing can serve as a therapeutic outlet for expressing and processing emotions.
  • Avoidance of Triggers: Identifying and avoiding situations or triggers that increase the desire to self-medicate can prevent the cycle from beginning.

While these coping mechanisms can be beneficial, it’s crucial to recognize that everyone’s response to stress is unique. It may take some experimentation to discover which strategies work best for an individual’s specific needs.

Understanding what makes someone addicted to alcohol can be the first step in helping a person seek treatment. Depending on how bad their alcohol abuse has been or if medically-assisted alcohol detox will be needed for withdrawal symptoms, entering into a treatment center may be a necessary option. Professional medical staff can assist in the difficult process of withdrawal, making the transition into sobriety less daunting.

Alcohol abuse treatment programs teach people how to move into an alcohol-free lifestyle while teaching them healthy coping strategies. They can simultaneously help treat any co-occurring mental health issues.

Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake if you have questions about treatment or if you’re ready to get on the path to recovery and end your addiction to alcohol.


Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.