Self-Medicating With Alcohol or Drugs

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Self-medicating is a term used to describe the use of drugs (including alcohol) to treat untreated and often undiagnosed mental distress, stress and anxiety, including mental illnesses and/or psychological trauma. When someone develops a substance problem, we often hear that he or she was self-medicating his or her attention-deficit disorder, or anxiety, or depression, or school problems, or for any number of reasons.

Coping with drugs or alcohol is never a good choice as they can have long-term and short term consequences. It is important for you to find a healthy way to deal with your feelings before they become overwhelming. Here are some tips that may be helpful:

Paint it! It is sometimes helpful to let go of your feelings and express yourself in a creative manner. Try to draw or paint a picture or image that expresses what you are feeling.

Keep a diary or journal. It may be useful for you to keep a diary or journal where you can write down your feelings, as well as keep a record of any other activities or events which you’ve experienced.

Talk to someone.  Bottling your thoughts inside you can oftentimes make your reactions worse. It may be helpful to talk to a friend, family member or someone else you trust about the event and your feelings. Another option is for you to share your feelings with someone who was involved in the event.

Seek help. Your local doctor, therapist, counselor or youth worker will also be able to help you to develop coping strategies. In some cases prescribed medication may help to relieve your anxiety. Only your medical doctor or psychiatrist can point out the benefits and side effects of these prescribed medications.

Getting help. If you feel like your stress is overwhelming and you need to speak with someone else immediately or maybe someone that doesn’t know you but can help, you might want to call, chat, text or emailwith the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. The hotline is free and staffed with trained volunteers who can speak with you 24/7.

Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was originally developed by youth and staff at, a website that helps teens get through tough times.  

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