Hypochondria and Substance Abuse

Hypochondria and Substance AbuseHypochondria is a real and serious problem that warrants careful professional attention. Those who suffer from it, however, express their hypochondria through preoccupation with and fixation on physical problems which are either insignificant or imagined. This anxiety about health opens up a vulnerability to problems with substance abuse.

Common Ground

Hypochondria and substance abuse are two distinct and separate problems. There does, however, appear to be a relationship between the causes of the two problems. Although the specific cause, or causes, of hypochondria have not been identified, certain characteristics or experiences appear to increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition. Those who suffer from depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are each more likely to suffer from hypochondria or abuse substances. Experiences of abuse or mistreatment also appear to make both hypochondria and substance abuse more likely in later life.

Self Medicating

Many people begin to abuse substances in an attempt to treat a condition or symptom they believe they suffer from. This practice is called “self-medicating.” Those with hypochondria can be so consumed by anxiety about their health that they cannot work or sleep. Unfortunately, increased worry about those substances’ effect on health may emerge as the effects wear off. Many substances which offer quick relief from anxiety also carry high potential for addiction with repeated use.

But hypochondriacs have another reason to medicate themselves: Imagined diseases. Hypochondria allows people to convince themselves that they are endangered by a disease even if there is no medical evidence to support that conclusion. When doctors refuse treatment because of their health, they may abuse medications in an effort to treat the disease they believe they have.

For these and other reasons, hypochondria is an acknowledged risk factor for substance abuse.

A Tangle of Treatments

Hypochondria was once considered to be almost untreatable. Better understanding of hypochondria and related anxiety disorders has led to effective approaches of treatment. These include:

  • Medication – Anti-depressants and sometimes anti-anxiety medications have helped some people control some symptoms of hypochondria.
  • Psychotherapy – Clinical psychologists can help patients learn new thought patterns through techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or controlled exposure to feared situations.
  • Healthy living – Meditation, relaxation techniques, exercise, and quality nutrition can all reduce hypochondria.

But effective treatment is only possible once the hypochondria is diagnosed. Primary care physicians may not be looking for mental disorders such as hypochondria. If they do suspect it, patients often leave that doctor for one more willing to endlessly reassure them or provide preventative treatments.

Other mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, may be correctly diagnosed but mask the hypochondria. Treatment for those conditions could involve medications with high abuse potential. With an incomplete diagnosis, doctors may not be able to pursue a course of treatment that addresses the complete person and guards against abuse of these substances.

Real Help

If you or someone you know is suffering from hypochondria, call our 24 hour helpline to learn more about avoiding or correcting problems with substance abuse. The call is toll free.