When Self-Medicating Turns Into Addiction


When Self-Medicating Turns Into Addiction

Know the signs and what to do about it

As a therapist, I talk to a lot of Solo Mom clients who are struggling with addiction. Their substance-use stories are often very similar. They remember a time when, having difficulty with managing sadness or anxiety and other problems such as insomnia, they began to self-medicate with drinking or drugs. But somewhere along the line, their wish to alleviate or handle their problems using drugs and alcohol got out of control.

Self-medicating—using alcohol or drugs to “treat” a symptom or condition—is a widespread practice that can lead to a variety of other problems, including addiction. And it is of particular concern for Solo Moms, for a number of reasons. Do any of these sound like you?

  • “I can handle it myself.” A busy Solo Mom is more likely to try to handle a problem on her own, as opposed to trying to add a doctor or therapist appointment into an already packed schedule.
  • “It’s not that big a deal—I have a lot of other, more important things to worry about.” A Solo Mom is often so focused on taking care of her children, so she doesn’t prioritize addressing her own health and well-being needs.
  • “I feel so alone sometimes—nobody understands how hard it is.” Being or feeling isolated are risk factors for substance abuse, and lack of concrete assistance and support can make drinking or drug use seem like the best, or even the only, solution.
  • “I do so much—I deserve to get a little relief.” Some Solo Moms don’t know how to soothe, comfort, or reward themselves well for the ongoing, tough work of solo parenting, so they turn to drinking or drug use for this.
  • “It all falls on me.” Bearing the brunt of parenting responsibility not only increases the odds that a Solo Mom will feel overwhelmed at some point, it also raises the stakes of how drinking or drug use might affect their parenting. Many Solo Moms describe feeling ashamed of the urge to self-medicate or unhappy with the way they parent during or after self-medicating. And when the problem becomes full-blown addiction, Solo Moms often feel scared that they will be judged, that their parenting may suffer or be scrutinized—or even that they might lose the legal right to parent their children if they seek help.

How do I know if self-medicating has turned into addiction?

If you are experiencing a loss of control over your substance use, such as drinking or using one or more drugs more often and in greater amounts than intended, or if you are making repeated, unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit, that is an indication of addiction. Additionally, experiencing negative consequences directly related to substance use and choosing to continue using the substance anyway is another sign of addiction.

Seeking help

If you or someone you love is self-medicating and you are concerned about the impact or risks, it’s important to know that you don’t have to handle it alone. In fact, seeking help may be necessary in order to stop self-medicating. Increasing numbers of treatment programs, medical and therapy professionals, and nonprofit organizations are aware of the unique risk factors and needs of Solo Moms who have turned to self-medicating, and self-help organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can be an important, confidential, free source of information and support.

It is important to see your doctor about any symptoms that persist during or after self-medication attempts, as they might indicate an underlying medical condition which needs treatment. Intense sadness and anxiety, for instance, are often dismissed by the sufferer as mere feelings to be coped with, when in fact they can be medical symptoms stemming from a mood disorder or other illnesses that should be diagnosed and treated.

Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to take care of your children. If your substance use is spinning out of control, help is available, and you are worth pursuing it.


Image via Shutterstock.com

Susan Lemere is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.


Send to friend

Help us improve ESME by answering this survey.

Download our ESME app for a smoother experience.

Get the app Get the app