A personal view of self-medication

Cheryl White, a long term drug user and harm reduction activist, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, talks about the intersection of drug use and mental illness. After being diagnosed she became aware that she had been using drugs to self medicate since a young age. The diagnosis has helped her manage her drug use as a conscious response to her condition, in contrast to more chaotic patterns of previous use. The preconceptions of many medical professionals often means that drug use is seen as the cause of patients' problems rather than a symptom. This means that the underlying conditions go undiagnosed, people develop dependence through continued self medication, and are driven to illegal activities and lifestyles which carry high levels of personal risk.

Analysing her experiences in the context of her diagnosis has also enabled her to view the enjoyment aspect of drug use as a separate benefit to the self medication aspect. She discusses how there is little space for dialogue on the pleasurable aspects of drug use in the mainstream harm reduction field. Pleasure maximisation ties in closely with harm reduction in that it involves minimising the dangerous aspects of drug use, but at the same time acknowledges that there are benefits to drug use. Education about how to maximise the recreational enjoyment of drugs can mean that the same or greater benefits can be gained with much lower risk.