Q. My counselor told me that all addictive behaviors are really an attempt toward self-medication. Do you agree?

A. Yes, that is one way of looking at it. Addictive behaviors involve a form of self-medication designed to provide you with some type of gratification. The goal of self-medication (conscious or subconscious) is to alter your own neurochemistry and provide you with some type of gratification. While self-medication has undoubtedly saved lives and prevented suicides in the short term there are solutions that have fewer deleterious side effects in the long term.

The perceived gratification or reward is typically in the form of pleasure, avoidance from boredom, or in the reduction of pain (emotional or physical). Naturally the reward can take a variety of forms and can be different for different brains. For example, self-medication can provide:

  • Distraction/escape from discomfort (e.g., unmanaged emotions such as fear/anxiety/anger/sadness, contextual depression, unmanaged stressors, distressing memories)
  • Reduction of pain (physical or emotional) and/or relief of boredom
  • Increased sense of wellbeing through the pursuit of pleasure (e.g., euphoria, intense surprise from variety or the unusual, risk taking)