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Self-Medicating with Drugs, Alcohol Can Lead to Serious Problems


According to a new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry, attempting to rid one’s self of anxiety and stress with alcohol and other substances increases a given person’s risk of alcoholism and other substance abuse problems.

"People probably believe that self-medication works," says James M. Bolton, M.D., the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg. "What people do not realize is that this quick-fix method actually makes things worse in the long term."

Attempts to self-medicate with alcohol are more common than people think. In order to come to their conclusions, researchers analyzed a representative sample of 34,653 American adults, 13 percent of whom had consumed alcohol or drugs in the prior year so as to get rid of their anxiety, fear, stress or panic. A quarter of the group admitted to self-medicating with drugs.

"Serious consequences can develop very quickly," Bolton says. "People can develop alcoholism and anxiety disorders within just three years, and these are illnesses that can have a devastating impact on a person's health, their relationships, and their financial situation."

In the group, 13 percent of people with anxiety disorders who attempted to self-medicate with alcohol ended up developing an alcoholism problem over the three-year study period. Similarly, 10 percent of people with an anxiety disorder who self-medicated with drugs developed a drug problem.

"Unfortunately, people often do not seek the help they need because of the stigma around mental illness," Bolton says. "People are likely to stay at home and use the resources that they have at their disposal, which in this case would be alcohol or drugs."

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