Is drug abuse just a learned habit stemming from other disorders? When it comes to having problems—whether they be mental or physical—it’s always been a theme in America to get a diagnosis and a pill. For example, if a kid isn’t paying attention in class, instead of figuring out if the curriculum isn’t challenging enough for them, doctors seem to just diagnose ADHD and give them a pill.

I feel like this trend has given way to underground self-medicating. We see the proof in this when studying some of the most common co-occurring disorders with substance abuse: alcoholism, cocaine, and marijuana abuse is usually coupled with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Alcoholism and Anxiety

Alcohol abuse is common with a number of mental health concerns, like Anxiety. In fact, according to the NIH “Studies indicate that approximately 10 to 30 percent of alcoholics have panic disorder, and about 20 percent of persons with anxiety disorders abuse alcohol.”

On top of that, they go as far as saying, “Among alcoholics entering treatment, about two-thirds have symptoms that resemble anxiety disorders. Several studies indicate that anxious patients may use alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate, despite the fact that such use may ultimately exacerbate their clinical condition.” Crazy Right? I thought so too.

After thinking about it though I realized that it’s not too far of a reach. I can’t tell you how many times I myself have grabbed a glass of wine at a networking event to soothe my social anxiety. It’s something I don’t even think about. Nervous? Grab a drink for liquid courage! Who hasn’t heard that before?

The problem is in our way to follow quick solutions. For instance, a better answer to this problem is to start small and work up the courage to attend bigger events. Perhaps one could hang out with close friends practicing conversations or use the mirror. Liquid courage doesn’t have to be the answer to everything. Build that confidence!

Marijuana Addiction and Depression

The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. Symptoms can include irregular sleep, appetite, energy, focus, or self-esteem.

Growing up as a millennial with childhood trauma it wasn’t rare to see my friends and authority figures speaking about the positives of marijuana. Weed could help them sleep, numb trauma, and I’ve even heard gain weight.

A great deal of the things they claimed smoking marijuana could fix were symptoms of depression. None of my friends are doctors though, so to be sure I looked around on the popular stoner website and found this gem: “Occasional or daily cannabis consumers have lower levels of depressive symptoms than non-users, a 2006 study found.” They say, and I quote “Researchers at McGill University, in Montreal, discovered that THC in low doses can serve as an antidepressant and produces serotonin—but they also found that high doses of THC can worsen depression symptoms.” So, there we have it: the never-ending cycle of taking marijuana to feel better yet having the same feelings over again.

If we have a generation of marijuana users overusing their medication, they won’t get better and that effects research as well. Numbing past trauma or stressful situations is like putting a band-aid on a large cut, not too much healing comes from it.

If you need to relax there are 3 things that always work for me:

  1. Turn on the PlayStation, the background music they have on there is so relaxing paired with the blue screen. You’d never think so but my roommates and I all agree.
  2. Single out your muscles and squeeze them! Starting with your toes and fists, tense them up, hold and relax. Work your way up to the forearms and shins, all the way to your shoulders and abs. Don’t forget to unclench your jaw and breathe deeply. This will tranquilize your body.
  3. If you are feeling depressed out anxious grounding is a great emergency technique. Take a break and step outside. Leave your shoes behind and push your feet into the ground. Take a deep breath and look around at nature and list everything can see, hear, feel, or smell. By the time you’re finished your mood will improve!

Cocaine Abuse and Low Self Esteem

Cocaine use is known for its effects on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the brain registering positive feelings and “rewarding” behaviors. Cocaine increase dopamine which is, in part, what leads to the subjective high of cocaine use.  The rewarding feeling it produces is the reason why the addictive powder can be appealing to those with low self-esteem, as it makes them feel better and provides them with a bit of confidence, similar to the idea of liquid courage.

The worst part about users turning to Cocaine is that the drug is known to have a depressive crash. Users may experience rapid heartbeat, fitful sleep, and excruciating headaches if not properly hydrated. Not only that but the most annoying cases can experience increased irritability, agitation and an inability to concentrate on any activity for an extended period.  Thankful there are ways to help with the symptoms.

  1. Drink water and nothing else. You need to rehydrate yourself.
  2. Load up on pineapple, grapefruit, and tomato juice.
  3. A workout is perfect for everybody; walking is also ok.

Opioid Use and PTSD

PTSD is a mental illness that takes hold in the aftermath of a very serious episode in which the person was either facing death or watching someone else die, although it can also occur due to some other traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of things related to the event, severe anxiety, sleeplessness, aggressive behavior, and angry outbursts.

All things that can be subdued by opiates are responsible for the control of reward and pleasure; opioid’s effects block pain and create feelings of calmness. Because of this, many PTSD victims, including those veterans, tend to lean toward opiates to help control and get rid of their symptoms.

Typically, people are prescribed opioid’s to help relieve pain, but because of the addictive nature of the drug and its effects, many become dependent on it to help them through everything. Essentially, the prescription becomes a necessary crutch, with people asking for more and more, with a growing number of veterans becoming addicted.

In 2012, one in three VA patients received opioids to manage their pain, the department reported. The Department of Veterans Affairs says that VA patients getting opioid prescriptions increased by nearly 77% between 2004 and 2012.

Where Is the Follow Up? 

The thing about these co-occurring disorders is that is extremely hard to care for in one facility. One problem surrounds psychology and the other is based on behavior. There are a few places that are able to bundle the treatment of mental disorders and addiction, but more needs to be done.

How can we cure the outside behavior without going inside to change the motive for the addiction? We have to take accountability as a country for the mental wellbeing of our soldiers and citizens. We have to push for integrated care facilities.