By: Zach Good

Key takeaways:

There are five major stages in the self-medication process:

Activator: The event or situation that triggers the negative feelings that fuel the desire to self-medicate. Example: Being told one needs to lose weight.

Emotions: The feelings that fuel the desire to self-medicate. Example: Experiencing sadness and hopelessness as a result of perceiving oneself as being overweight.

Decision: The action the individual chooses to take in response to the negative emotions. This can be a positive response or a negative response. Example (Positive): Not taking critical feedback to heart and shrugging it off. Example (Negative): Deciding to starve oneself to lose weight.

Medication: The act of using a substance or harmful activity as a means to reconcile negative emotions. Example: Starving oneself to lose weight.

Results: The outcome of the decision to self-medicate. Results can be short-term or long-term. Example (Short-Term): Breaking a commitment to meet a friend for dinner. Example (Long-Term): Losing friends and developing illnesses as a result of repeated self-medication.


Phobias follow a behavior pattern similar to addictions. Let’s take an example of someone who was nearly struck by lightning as a child. In the future, being outside when the sky becomes cloudy is an activator. When faced with the activator, the individual experiences negative emotions such as fright and has feelings of helplessness and loss of control. To take back power in the situation, the individual makes the decision to avoid being outside when it’s cloudy. The individual self-medicates by staying inside except on days when there isn't a cloud in the sky. The result is they miss out on social events and live in a state of fear.

What triggers an individual to use a substance to self-medicate? How is a response to a phobia similar to an addiction? The video below provides answers to these substantial questions and much more.