Stress is a factor that causes many people to abuse alcohol or drugs. The condition is being highlighted this week in International Stress Awareness Week (1–5 November 2021).
Stress is the body’s natural reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. A small amount of stress can be motivating, and can help us meet the various demands of home, work and family life, but too much stress can affect our physical and mental well-being. Those who are unable to deal with stress positively and effectively may turn to alcohol or drugs for temporary relief. Unfortunately, those who self-medicate in this way are risking a number of other problems, including addiction, which will ultimately make their situation worse.
Alcohol, for example, is a central nervous system depressant, which makes the user feel relaxed and calm in the short term. However, continued abuse of alcohol can lead to dependence, which can result in a vicious circle of more and more stress for the individual (See ‘Stress and alcohol don’t mix’). Self-medicating with drugs can also lead to a number of issues, not least of which is addiction.
Forms of self-medication
As it is so widely available, alcohol tends to be the most common method of self-medication, and the most commonly abused substance. It may be used to self-medicate stress as well as depression and anxiety, even though alcohol itself is a depressant and will therefore only make symptoms worse in the longer term.
Prescription drugs, including opioid painkillers and anti-anxiety medication are also widely available. They are used to numb pain, aid relaxation, or to increase focus and energy.
According to the mental health website HelpGuide, drugs such as marijuana, cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines are used to manage uncomfortable emotions, situations and memories, but can also result in drug abuse and addiction.
It is important to remember that substance abuse may make a person feel better in the short-term, but it will only exacerbate problems if it continues.
Effective ways of dealing with stress that do not include alcohol or drugs should be prioritised, such as meditation and mindfulness. Exercise is another powerful way to relieve stress, whether it’s a full-on workout in the gym or just a gentle walk in the fresh air.
Drug and alcohol testing
The various types of alcohol tests include blood alcohol testing, instant breath tests, nail clippings and 3- or 6-month hair analyses to show alcohol consumption over a period of time.
In addition, we can test for the widest range of drugs using hair, oral fluid, urine or nail clippings.
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