For many depression sufferers, obtaining treatment can be costly and time-consuming. Treatment usually requires several visits to a licensed counselor and possible prescription medication, required to be taken regularly.
Treatment often means admitting you have depression, which can be difficult for some who believe their symptoms are merely normal reactions to everyday stressors.
Instead of seeking treatment, some depression sufferers are taking matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, these attempts at self-medication are dangerous and can cause far greater problems than simply getting treatment from trained medical personnel.
The Self-Medication Hypothesis
The Self-Medication Hypothesis, introduced by a group of scientists that included Harvard Medical School’s Edward J. Kantzian, is a theory that states alcohol and drug abuse is often an attempt at self-medication for a variety of mental health conditions, including depression. The drug of choice, the scientists hypothesize, is no accident. Patients gravitate toward the substance that best medicates their particular condition.
While the Self-Medication Hypothesis holds true in many studies, there are also studies that contradict its results. Whether the substance causes the mental issues or the mental issues lead patients to abuse the substance is up for debate in the field. Still, for patients suffering from substance abuse, self-medication should be explored as a possible reason, as treatment for illnesses like depression is much less physically and mentally debilitating than overuse of alcohol and drugs.
Self-Medicating with Alcohol
In low doses, alcohol can treat depression temporarily. However, if used as regular treatment it can lead to alcoholism, which only exacerbates depression. Additionally, alcoholism can be extremely difficult to overcome, leading to months of needed recovery, with depression complicating treatment.
Self-Medicating with Drugs and Caffeine
Sometimes those suffering from depression will turn to psychostimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, for the temporary feeling of euphoria. Unfortunately, cocaine can also cause depression.
The other risks associated with cocaine, however, make it a dangerous form of treatment for depression and any other illness. Cocaine is considered a life-risking drug, with users dying even during recreational use.
Most common cocaine-related fatalities occur as a result of sudden heart failure, with cocaine doing major damage to the body’s cardiovascular system.
Self-Medicating with Nicotine and Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant, used by many every morning to wake up. While its ability to wake a sleepy person up may seem the perfect way to perk up someone suffering from depression, its effects are only temporary. Once the high wears off, a person’s insulin levels drop, creating feelings of confusion and depression. Experts recommend limiting your caffeine intake to one cup of coffee per day.
Smoking comes with it many dangers, but some depression patients turn to nicotine for a temporary lift from the blues. Unfortunately, nicotine is still closely tied with depression, as estimates report that as much as half of all smokers report at least one depressive episode in their lives.
Quitting is also tough for those suffering from depression. A physician from the Division of Chronic Disease Control concluded that depressed smokers are 40 percent less likely to quit than non-depressed smokers. Their research also found a close link between smoking and depression, although no research has yet to prove a scientific explanation for that link.
Self-Medicating with Marijuana
Cannibis has been found effective in treating depression in small doses. A 2007 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience reported that cannabis increases serotonin in small doses, similar to the effects that Prozac has on a patient. However, in high doses the treatment actually backfires, causing the patient to suffer feelings of depression.
However, cannibis has been found in some studies, including a study published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research,to have a negative impact on the brain, especially in brain development in younger patients. Another study reported that long-term use of marijuana could impair short-term memory.
Aside from those facts, marijuana is still illegal in most states. The legal ramifications of trying to use marijuana are steep, and those self-medicating with the substance should consider them before lighting up.