The Risks of Self-Medicating with Alcohol for Pain and Where to Get Help

Although it may seem like the only available option in hard times, self-medicating with alcohol for pain can have devastating, even-more-painful consequences. Alcohol abuse can lead to addiction, serious risks for the body, and risks for the mind and emotions. When self-medicating becomes a pattern, professional treatment is critical to initiate recovery for substance use disorders, any co-occurring disorder, and, of course, the original sources of pain.

Alcohol seemed to give Amrita a place to visit, away from the terrible thoughts and memories in her mind. Just a few weeks after her brother died, she started hanging out with an old high school friend, and they would drink heavily at least a few nights out of the week. Sometimes they stayed in, sometimes they went out to bars. It became a routine that they both depended on.

But, pretty soon, Amrita was drinking every night—even when she was alone. In fact, she often drank even more on those solo nights because she didn’t have any conversation or other distractions from her intrusive emotional pain. She stopped visiting with family and doing almost anything that reminded her of her brother’s suicide and how much she wanted him back. She was so lost, she wouldn’t have even been able to recognize a way out of her despair and intoxication.


Alcohol seemed to give Rick a break from the back pain that never failed to show up for the last decade or more. He worked in an office and was often on his feet and bending and reaching to organize files, supplies, and stacks of manuals. He would grit his teeth and push through the pain during the day. But when he got home in the afternoon, he went straight to the vodka bottle even before thinking about food or sitting down or even changing out of his work clothes.

His wife was afraid of Rick’s temper when he was drinking, and she was afraid to question his need for pain relief. But life had become a painful contradiction of overwhelming fear and emptiness for both of them. Each day that the cycle continued carved it deeper into their present and their future.


Pain comes in many forms, and in those terrible moments, it can be really difficult to find a healthy way to deal with it. Self-medicating with alcohol for the pain becomes a familiar catch-all whether it’s helping anything in the bigger picture or not. And it’s not.

In fact, the risks and side effects of self-medicating with alcohol are much greater than the short-lived relief it can offer. The more someone turns to drinking for comfort and for pain maintenance, the greater the chances of developing an addiction. And early clinical treatment is the only way really minimize the fallout from alcohol abuse and begin to heal the underlying physical or emotional pain that deserves true and compassionate treatment.

The Dangers of Self-Medicating with Alcohol for Pain


There is a lot at stake with alcohol abuse even when a person’s use hasn’t escalated to full-blown addiction. And when alcohol addiction has set in, the risks of irreversible loss and damage are critical—up until the point that someone begins with inpatient detox and therapeutic treatment. Whether a person’s pain is physical, emotional, spiritual, or of any other form, self-medicating with alcohol or with drugs will lead down a road that is ultimately more painful.

Alcohol’s Risks to the Body

Alcohol acts as a depressant on the body. When someone is abusing alcohol for pain and their tolerance increases, they need more of it in order to achieve the relaxation and relief they are looking for. Of course, when one’s tolerance is high and they are drinking to excess, it is possible for them to experience alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Intoxication brings immediate changes to one’s behaviors and responsiveness in general, but it can also cause more serious damage to the brain with consistent abuse.

Over time, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to serious cardiovascular complications, including high blood pressure and vascular damage, heart attacks, strokes, cardiomyopathy, and an irregular heartbeat. The liver is directly affected by large quantities of alcohol because it is responsible for metabolizing it. Common related complications include fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and cirrhosis, which is irreversible. Heavy drinking might weaken a person’s immune system, leading to all manner of dangerous infections. And alcohol abuse can increase the risk of some cancers.


Read more here about how alcohol affects the body.


Alcohol’s Risks to the Mind and Emotions

Alcohol brings with it powerful and distressing emotions, such as guilt, shame, anxiety, anger, hopelessness, and self-doubt. So, not only does alcohol not help to heal a person’s emotional pain, but it also adds to and aggravates their emotional landscape. Underlying problems they are trying to escape from are probably getting much worse, marinating in the alcohol. And co-occurring mental health disorders can develop or worsen too, intensifying the symptoms and side effects of psychological unrest.

And it is not the addicted person alone who suffers. Due to worry, stress, conflict, social and financial complications, the family and friends suffer as well. In fact, when family members get wrapped up in the fear and addictive behaviors, they may be participating in and enabling the addictive cycles. Relationships suffer, and individuals suffer. And those distressing emotions that alcohol tends to spread end up bringing more pain and taking people further away from the treatment they need.


Read more here about how alcohol affects the emotions.


 

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What to Do When Alcohol Abuse Goes Too Far


You can recognize the signs of alcohol abuse and addiction and help a loved one get the care they need for their addiction and for their deeper pain. The urgency of treatment is not about neglecting the pain this person is trying to relieve. On the contrary, treatment is an opportunity to dismantle substance use disorders and their imminent risks, and it is also an opportunity to explore real solutions for pain management, be it physical or emotional.

When alcohol abuse goes too far, the next best step is getting professional help. The road to recovery opens the doors to a future in harmony with one’s painful challenges because they finally have the resources necessary to cope. This can be a healing journey for the whole family.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.