Beware of Self-Medicating

Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders end up turning to a behavior known in psychology circles as “self-medicating” — that is, using alcohol or illicit or misused drugs to assuage their feelings of sadness, anxiety, or shyness. You probably know that this is not a good idea. Self-medicating has often been shown to lead to serious drug or alcohol problems, even full-blown addiction.

Alcohol and other drugs often cause dependency so that you need to keep using the substance to achieve the same feeling of well-being. It also leads to tolerance: Your body gets used to the alcohol or drug and then needs more (and more) to get to the same level of calm, high, or diminished inhibition.

While medication specifically prescribed for OCD or depression can help to regulate your mood, alcohol or illegal drugs cannot. In other words, just because you felt great the last time you drank, that doesn't mean you'll feel just as good every time you drink. In fact, most probably, you won't. Alcohol and many illicit drugs act as central nervous system depressants — just what you were trying to avoid.

Fact

Depression usually lifts gradually, not all at once, which definitely belies the cliché, “snapping out of it.” Don't expect too much of yourself too quickly — but know that depression can improve, especially with treatment. One day soon, you may realize that it isn't there anymore.

Other Reasons to Exercise Caution

There are other good reasons not to self-medicate. For one thing, alcohol and illegal drugs will impair your physical coordination and reaction time, meaning that you definitely should not drive under their influences. Doing so could be very dangerous for you or others.

These substances can also alter your judgment. That is, under their effects, you might find yourself doing or saying things you'll wish you hadn't. These can range from embarrassing to downright unsafe. When it comes to self-medicating, remember the ancient saying: “He who is his own doctor has a fool for a patient.”

Common-Sense Remedies

The best ways to control depression are also the best ways to handle OCD: Choose medication or CBT, or both. Have a good support system, if possible. Limit the stresses in your life as much as you can. Take care to maintain a balanced diet — go easy on the sugar and caffeine, get at least a moderate amount of exercise, and get enough sleep each night. Have some fun activities in your life, as well: a class you can look forward to attending every week, or a night out with your friends. Volunteer for something you believe in. And again, don't neglect to seek professional help whenever depression or any other symptom becomes noticeable or threatens to overwhelm you.

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