Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Am I Self Medicating?

What does it mean to self medicate? Why do we do it? How does it effect us?

We all like to feel pleasure and avoid pain. That is the natural order of being. Some forms of pain are emotional rather than physical. We may feel pain when a relationship ends or when we are hurt by a caustic remark. If our family of origin was a place of frequent pain and chaos we may have learned to ease our pain by self medicating. We may have seen our caretakers self medicate in various ways: having a couple of drinks daily after work, smoking marijuana to relax, eating too much sweets after an argument, running to OTB to place that last bet.

There are any number of ways in which we can self medicate including: abuse of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, food, gambling, pornography and sex, to name a few. Some of us engage in high risk activities as a way of self medicating. All of these methods involve releasing chemicals in the brain that effect our pleasure center.

For those of us who have self medicated with alcohol, tobacco or drugs, these chemicals increase certain neuro-transmitters giving us that high feeling. Food too can be abused. Sugar activates the same receptors as heroine, the casein in cheese activates the same receptors as opium and caffeine reacts in the body as a neuro-stimulant. Gambling, pornography, sex and high risk activities all create a rush of adrenaline which creates a high similar to and as addictive as cocaine.

When we opt to self medicate we are using our medication of choice to block out pain and increase pleasure. This may feel good in the short run, however, over time some forms of self medication take on a life of their own. When we don't choose to deal with our issues we run the risk of burying them under a landslide of denial. It may be harder to face our difficulties, but in the end we will be far better off for the work.

Avoiding the trap of feel good self medication takes a great deal of self discipline. We use our tools to practice self care in our daily lives. As we resist the urge to self medicate we increase our self esteem. In this way we give ourselves the gift of sobriety.

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