A Primary Source of Unhappiness
Self-medication to reduce or avoid pain and suffering is a major unhelpful habit in the United States. It is a desperate human effort to reduce pain and suffering in physical and psychological experiences. Therefore, we humans may be hard-wired for it. When we suffer and do not utilize effective wise mind skills, we are simply doing our best to improve this emotional moment. It will require skilled mindfulness practices to improve our happiness.
Self-medication was once thought to be caused by personality types and deep-seated learned emotional reaction to discomfort (fear, shame, unmet emotional needs, an array of desires, and strong attachment to craved objects). More current, evidence-based interpretations expand this view into the area of social-emotional reinforcement and conditioning. Outcomes are always negative in the long-term; the original emotional cause becomes more serious (anxiety, depression, traumatic symptoms, substance misuse, eating problems, digital addictions, anger, etc.), and the habit of self-medicating leads to “addiction” to whatever behavior improves the moment. The best one can hope for is very short-term relief from immediate suffering – only to be followed by repeated efforts to reduce and/or avoid more suffering. Since the process becomes a habit via both positive and negative reinforcement (reward and avoidance of punishment/suffering) – as well as brain plasticity in activated brain regions that sensitize the related behaviors- self-medicators tend to remain trapped between suffering and ONLY short-term relief from it. Since impulsive reactivity to reduce and/or avoid pain is part of this process, people who self-medicate tend not to possess effective psychosocial coping skills. Thus, self-medication is their very weak, eventually unhelpful coping skill.
In future posts, we will investigate how self-medication works in the life-experience areas of substance misuse, depression, anxiety, trauma and anger. More later on this very harmful habitual behavior. It will become more clear that part of this problem relates to the automatic processes of the brain. It will take a mindful MIND to improve one’s happiness.
by Anthony R. Quintiliani, Ph.D., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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