It seems to me that different people have different versions of what it means to self-medicate and when it becomes a problem. When I was younger, my dad used to come home and drink 2 straight vodkas in a highball glass, eat dinner, then watch tv, and go to bed. Every day. I never saw him as an “alcoholic.” He never beat us or slurred his words or fought with my mom or anything like the stories I’ve heard people tell about growing up with alcoholics. I think that having a glass or two of alcohol at the end of the day is not a big deal.
How can you tell if there’s a problem? I have two questions that I ask to determine the answer:
1) Does it affect your day-to-day life?
2) Is it affecting your health?
If the answer is yes, you might want to start thinking about what’s going on (or what’s gone on) in your life that’s causing you to self-medicate. I look at substance misuse as a tip-of-the-iceberg situation in that there’s usually something much bigger under the surface. It might be untreated depression or being bullied as a child or anger over a past relationship.
What do you do about it? I like to assign brainstorming activities. This involves sitting down in a calm space alone and handwriting whatever comes to mind for 30 minutes non-stop. This exercise typically reaches the sub-concious and you can learn better what it is you’re dealing with. Another technique is to make a list of the people who have hurt you most or with whom you’re the angriest. One by one, address those people and situations by either writing about them until you feel somewhat resolved or writing them a letter saying everything you want to. At the end, burn the letter or rip it to pieces. This can be a very cathartic exercise but it can also bring up a lot, so make sure to have something fun planned afterwards.
If these exercises don’t help, you might consider psychotherapy. If you do, remember us. We have 4 therapists here at BHC.
Hope this helps!