So Many Ways to Self-Medicate – It Just Brings More Suffering
Very often poor child-parent (child-caretaker) object relations, attachment with care takers, and attunement by care takers negatively impact young children early in their lives. The well-documented scientific fact that environmental conditions play a more important role in gene-expression than pure genetics implies clearly that the quality of early life experiences activate long-term consequences in the lives of humans. Let’s take an informal look at the various forms of self-medication (short-term habitual behaviors to add brief experiences of fleeting joy or to escape personal suffering) used commonly in American society.
What is wrong with America? We lead the world in consumption of mind-altering substances – is the emptiness in our souls too, too large and deep? Our compulsive substance use reflects a hungry ghost perspective. Addictions of all kinds cannot be an effective substitute for LOVE!
Here is a limited list.
- Substance use for various reasons – Users hope for periods of brief joy as positive reinforcement and/or escape from and avoidance of suffering as negative reinforcement.
- Substance use for various mental health sufferings – Users learn that certain substances have a brief impact on their suffering in depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, social phobia, and emotion dysregulation.
- Workaholism – We learn early that good work habits imply better success, but we overwork to escape things and/or to build internal security or compensate for insecurity.
- Out-of-control consumerism – We love to buy, buy, buy even when we cannot pay, pay, pay. Do we need or just want?
- Compulsive eating – Self-medicating often leads to obesity, then sometimes to diabetes, and other types eating disorders. Emotional eating is a very common problem in America. Supersize me! And that is exactly what happens.
- Social dependency – We appear to have an extreme fear of being alone. It may be that empty soul again.
- Extreme perfectionism – Some of us learn this as a way to cover up private insecurities and/or to obtain contingent positive self-esteem and self-concept. It may also be a behavior to obtain social-emotional value and respect from significant others.
- Sex addiction and sexual rages/compulsions – Interesting that our sexist society commonly refers to women here, even with diagnostic formats. What about men?
- Various self-medicating behaviors in mental health areas – Depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, social phobia and others; each one has its own forms of self-medicating the clinical conditions, and these forms go BEYOND substance use alone.
- Excessive aggression – Even harming others may produce some form of reinforcement as a contingent means to control situations, dominate people, and/or escape pain. In non-war environments we lead the world in the number of people killed by gunfire. Where is our emotional regulation?
A very long time ago, the Buddha (in the Brahmajala Sutta) noted that there are many, many things we may become over-attached to. This form of attachment can lead to suffering – suffering due to loss of what we want; suffering due to any change; suffering due to general impermanence in life; and, suffering due to old age and illness.
If you discovered your form of self-medication in the list above, consider obtaining competent professional help to modify your habitual trends. Another option could be to do DAILY practice of mindfulness-based stress reduction skills. Obtain competent professional help to learn these wise-mind skills AND practice them daily. In time (perhaps as little as 8-12 weeks according to neuroscience research), brain plasticity changes may occur; you may then notice your unhelpful self-medication is slowly being replaced with a more helpful and healthy habit. Best of luck on your personal journey to better physical and psychological health.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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For more information refer to Mate, G. (2018, 2010). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addictions. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, pp. 223-259.