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Are You Self Medicating?


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Dangers of Self Medicating

It is not uncommon for people who have mood disorders to consider using nontraditional means to manage their moods. This often leads to the use of a variety of substances from marijuana, alcohol, amphetamines, and more. Sometimes the self medication consists of experimenting with herbs such as St. Johns Wart, or with supplements like melatonin for sleep. The temptation to experiment with alternative drugs to balance the mood can come from a variety of reasons. However, self medication may be more detrimental to your mental health than working with a team who has both additional expertise and your best interest at heart.

Some people are reluctant to receive the diagnosis of bipolar as they fear the stigma that might be attached to that. An individual with this kind of fear might avoid going to see a mental health professional and from working with a psychiatrist to find the best medical intervention. Other people might not like the side effects of the medications that their psychiatrist is prescribing. And some people simply don’t like the hassle of being under the care of medical and mental health professionals, which requires regular visits and following a structured regimen.

Although these reasons may seem valid in and of themselves, self medication rarely produces good results over time. There are a few reasons why a person who faces the challenges of maintaining a stable mood might be putting themselves at greater risk of severe depression or mania, and/or doing more harm than good to their body. Among some of the most common dangers of self medicating is the fact that they are Illegal. This could lead to arrest and a record potentially causing problems with work life and family life. Secondly, experimenting with self medication may put the brain’s neurochemistry even in a worse state of imbalance and could even cause a dangerous type of rapid cycling as well as more acute mood swings. Finally, you cannot trust the safety of street drugs-much of what is on the street is laced with dangerous additives.

Alternative medicines such as St John’s Wart for depression and other herbs and supplements may be helpful depending on your situation; however you should work closely with both your psychiatrist and your pharmacist. This is because you may not know how the combination of your prescribed medications and the alternative medications that you want to use might mix. You might also be putting yourself at risk of triggering a depressive or manic episode depending on the alternative medication that you are using. People who self medicate sometimes inadvertently trigger a manic or depressive episode, then use a different alternative self medication for the triggered episode in an attempt to “balance” themselves out. The problem is, the “balance” or stability is rarely achieved, and the person becomes stuck in a cycle of rapid ups and downs that soon become out of control. Psychiatrists and pharmacists are trained in understanding the neuro-chemical responses to different substances and will also know how they will likely affect you. If you want to use both prescription medications and supplements, you must discuss this with both your pharmacist and your psychiatrist and become informed about all the possible repercussions of the mix. There might even be good combinations, just as you will likely find an effective “cocktail” of prescription medications if you are willing to work closely with your docs. And this leads me to my final point. Although many prescription medications have side effects, supplements and herbs and street drugs have side effects also.

The point is that you will position yourself for successful management of your moods if you work closely with informed doctors and find the safest, most effective combination or “cocktail for you, and to keep seeing your docs so that if there are any side effects the “cocktail” can be adjusted. Keep in mind that it is not unusual for a combination of medications to work for a time, and then they need to be changed a little every so often, which is yet another reason to continue to work closely with your doctors.

Are You Self Medicating?

Dr. Barbara Bachmeier

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APA Reference
Bachmeier, D. (2015). Are You Self Medicating?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Apr 2015
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