A High Percentage of Substance use Disorders Can be Attributed to Self Medication

wine bottlesAs many as 37% of individuals with an alcohol disorder have been found to also have a mental disorder, while 53% of individuals with drug disorders other than alcohol have been found to have a mental disorder.

Co-morbidity—the presence of more than one disorder—increases the severity of symptoms and the difficulty in treating either one of the problems.

Many people who suffer from anxiety also struggle with substance abuse.  Worry about everyday events, expecting disaster, tension, nausea, headaches, irritability and difficulty concentrating are a few of the common symptoms of anxiety.  People often turn to alcohol and other substances in order to relieve painful anxiety symptoms.  In the short term, drinking alcohol can reduce fearful thoughts and negative feelings, making drinking a powerful temptation.

However, a new study in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry has found that self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs is associated with increased risk of substance use disorders and social phobia.  The study examined data collected during two waves of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism survey to measure the occurrence of substance use disorders in individuals with anxiety disorders and the onset anxiety disorders in those with substance use disorders.  The study found that a high percentage of substance use disorders and social phobia that can be attributed to self-medication.

According to the authors of the study “the reduction of self-medicating behavior may lead to a significant decrease in incident comorbidity in the general population.” Although the study doesn’t articulate how to reduce alcohol and drug use aimed at relieving anxiety symptoms, it does  identify a group of people who are at risk.  It seems that intervening early to treat symptoms of anxiety with healthy strategies could reduce the number of people who turn to substances.

Photo by James Williams, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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