Self-Medicating With Alcohol: Signs And How To Stop

Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Drinking to relieve stress or reduce anxiety in social situations is commonly portrayed in movies, television shows, and joked about among friends and family.

But this can also be a sign of self-medication — a form of alcohol abuse. Self-medicating with alcohol can be dangerous, and may require professional treatment.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we offer a range of treatment programs for people with mild to severe alcohol issues, including alcohol detox and residential treatment options.

What Does Self-Medicating With Alcohol Mean?

Self-medication is a term that is used to describe the use of a substance to treat or alleviate symptoms of mental illness, without the explicit direction of a doctor.

Common mental illnesses for which someone might self-medicate include:

  • major depression
  • bipolar disorder (i.e. manic depression)
  • social anxiety disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • eating disorders
  • schizophrenia

Self-medicating with alcohol is common among people with co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis.

Why Would Someone Self-Medicate With Alcohol?

The reason why people self-medicate with alcohol can be complex. A person may use alcohol to relieve stress or reduce intense feelings of anxiety.

But alcohol can also become a crutch or something someone relies on just to get through the day, or to quell symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Some drivers behind self-medicating with alcohol include:

  • to quell or numb emotions
  • to relieve severe anxiety or stress
  • to escape from one’s thoughts/delusions
  • to relieve symptoms of mental illness
  • to enhance or counteract side effects of other drugs
  • to increase or suppress appetite
  • to cope with trauma
  • to treat mental illness in the absence of other treatments

Unfortunately, while self-medication can serve a purpose for someone, doing this with alcohol — or another common drug of abuse — can be harmful.

Signs Of Self-Medicating With Alcohol

Self-medication can be identified by a number of behavioral signs and symptoms.

Signs of self-medication may include:

  • drinking very frequently and in excessive amounts
  • increasing how much you drink over time
  • joking about drinking too much
  • turning to alcohol to cope with difficulties
  • experiencing cravings and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • avoiding social activities that don’t involve alcohol
  • neglecting friends or family in order to continue drinking
  • continuing to drink alcohol despite negative consequences
  • replacing other psychiatric medications with alcohol
  • new or worsening mental health issues
  • dramatic changes in appearance or mood 

Self-medication can change how a person behaves, how they look, as well as their relationships with others, and overall well-being.

If any of this describes you or a loved one, it may be time to talk to a healthcare provider or seek help through a substance abuse treatment center.

Dangers Of Self-Medicating With Alcohol

Self-medicating with alcohol is a sign of alcohol abuse or the misuse of alcohol.

Using alcohol as a form of self-medication may lead to the development of a higher tolerance for alcohol, as well as alcohol dependence and psychological addiction.

Over time, this can lead to physical health problems, mental health conditions, and can disrupt your ability to lead a life that doesn’t revolve around drinking alcohol.

Your drinking may negatively impact your relationships with loved ones, as well as your ability to hold a job, go to school, or participate in activities that don’t involve alcohol.

Alcohol abuse and addiction also increases the risk of:

  • getting into a motor vehicle accident
  • alcohol poisoning
  • various cancers
  • liver and kidney disease
  • heart disease
  • insomnia
  • high blood pressure
  • learning and memory problems
  • dementia
  • stroke

Does Self-Medicating With Alcohol Have Any Benefits?

No. Self-medication does not serve any practical purpose. But any benefits felt in the short-term, such as a reduction in mental illness symptoms, are temporary.

Furthermore, the harms of this greatly outweigh any perceived benefit. Over time, mental health conditions will often grow worse with self-medication, rather than improve.

When To Get Professional Help For Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can be mild or severe in nature, but it’s never benign. In all cases, it’s best to seek help sooner rather than later, before a drinking problem gets worse.

Signs it may be time to seek help include:

  • if your alcohol use is affecting your job, studies, or home life
  • if your alcohol use is having negative effects on physical or mental health
  • you find yourself unable to cut down on drinking
  • you feel out of control with your drinking
  • you use alcohol as a coping mechanism
  • you rely on alcohol just to feel “normal” or get through the day
  • you’ve turned to the non-prescribed use of other drugs (e.g. opioids)

Often, a person will be able to tell when their drinking has become a problem, even if they are not ready to admit it to themselves or others.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. 

Find Alcohol Addiction Treatment Today

Bedrock Recovery Center is an accredited drug addiction treatment facility in Massachusetts that offers evidence-based treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

Within our rehab programs we offer:

  • counseling for drug use and mental health 
  • behavioral therapy
  • group therapy
  • family therapy services
  • medication-assisted treatment
  • psychiatric services
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • aftercare support

For more information about our alcohol treatment programs, call our helpline to speak with an admissions specialist today.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
  3. U.S National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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