Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

patient and therapist

When someone suffers from two different mental health conditions at the same time, this is known as a dual diagnosis. It is fairly common for people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction to suffer from another mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. In the case of an anxiety disorder, several studies have documented that the anxiety precedes the addiction. That is, people do not develop an anxiety disorder because of their substance abuse; they turn to drugs and alcohol because of their anxiety. For that reason, it is critical to treat both elements of the dual diagnosis in order to maintain long-term recovery. People who kick drugs and alcohol without addressing the anxiety will most likely relapse. The underlying anxiety will continue to trigger substance abuse unless it is treated as well. But with proper treatment for anxiety and addiction, sober living is within reach.

What Is An Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a term that is familiar to many. Most people experience feelings of nervousness or worry due to specific situations. One might worry about an exam at school, feel uncomfortable at having to speak in public or worry about flying. The average person can overcome these anxious feelings and power through the situation, usually feeling a burst of relief when it is over. People often experience these feelings way out of proportion to the severity of the situation and become crippled with their worries. For example, anxiety over an exam might cause the person to completely freeze up and not answer a single question, or a fear of flying might send them into a panic attack such that he or she cannot get on the plane. Unable to reason with their brains and tell themselves that there is no real reason to worry, people with an anxiety disorder cannot prevent these overwhelming symptoms from occurring. Common symptoms include:

  • Fear
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to relax
  • Hypervigilance
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tension
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

There is more than one type of anxiety disorder. Here are several of the most common disorders and the symptoms they cause:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: People with generalized anxiety experience unfounded and uncontrollable feelings of worry and stress over everyday topics such as money, health, and job performance.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Here, people have a fear of social situations so severe that they will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with other people, even if it interferes with personal relationships and job performance. People with a social anxiety disorder may worry for weeks in advance about having to meet someone new or attend a party and they cannot overcome that worry, as someone who is simply shy could do.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD sufferers feel compelled to repeat certain rituals or routines as a way to allay their fears of safety or well-being, even as those rituals interfere with their own lives and the lives of the people around them. Common examples include excessive hand washing or checking, even if it causes them to have chapped skin, and re-checking the locks in a house, even if it means they lose sleep.
  • Panic Disorder: Panic disorder causes people to have a full-on panic attack over seemingly minor instances, such as public speaking, meeting new people, or flying on an airplane. The panic attack may feel like a heart attack and cause the person to think they may die, with symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, and a pounding heartbeat.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is caused by an actual trauma in the past, such as a rape or other assault, physical or sexual abuse, severe accident, or being in a war. Even though the incident is in the past, people with PTSD continue to experience the fear of that trauma in the present. A specific sound or situation may trigger flashbacks to the traumatic experience. PTSD can interfere with sleep patterns, cause difficulties in personal relationships, or make it difficult to go out in public.

What Is The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction?

There is a clear connection between anxiety and addiction, and in most situations, the anxiety predates the addiction. For example, one study followed children suffering from this disorder into adolescence. Those who received treatment were much less likely to engage in substance abuse later in life. Other studies have found that people with anxiety or another mood disorder are twice as likely to engage in substance abuse or dependence. Likewise, people who struggle with substance abuse are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or another mood disorder. This relationship indicates that most people suffering from both anxiety and addiction entered into substance abuse as a result of the anxiety. There are a few possible reasons for this sequence. One is that substance abuse may be a way of coping with or self-medicating the disorder, either by escaping from symptoms or using drugs or alcohol to feel normal. Another is that people with this disorder may be more impulsive and engage in substance abuse without thinking it through. Unfortunately, while drugs or alcohol may provide a brief respite from these symptoms, it may actually cause it or even worsen existing symptoms in the long run.

Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

Because of the close relationship between anxiety disorders and addiction, it is critical to treat both conditions. Otherwise, the symptoms of the untreated condition will continue and may cause a relapse of the other. For example, if the addiction alone is treated, the symptoms will persist and may cause a relapse of substance abuse. Likewise, if a person seeks treatment just for anxiety, they will remain addicted to drugs or alcohol, which is a problem in and of itself, and the substance abuse may continue to exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

The most effective treatment for anxiety and addiction is a combination of counseling and medical treatment. An inpatient rehab setting provides the best opportunity for success, as it allows the individual to focus solely on recovery without the stress of the outside world. First, the person must go through detox to remove all traces of drugs or alcohol from the body. This process can be very uncomfortable and can cause medical problems, so it is important to go through detox under medical supervision. Once detox is complete, treatment for anxiety and addiction can begin.

A combination of group and individual therapy is a common approach to counseling. Group therapy provides support from other people struggling with the same issues. Many people take comfort in knowing that other people have the same problems and have overcome them. In addition, people further along in recovery may be able to offer suggestions of strategies that have worked for them. Individual counseling can help with both addiction and anxiety. It can help the individual understand why they turned to substance abuse in the first place, which in this case may be anxiety. Individual therapy can also help with this disorder, helping the person to understand if any specific events or traumas are related or trigger it. One effective approach is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which people learn specific techniques to change their behavior. They learn to recognize triggers and practice specific techniques to cope with the moment. For example, they may learn that visiting family triggers these feelings, prompting them to drink heavily. They can practice coping techniques, such as deep breathing so that they are prepared to cope at the moment and avoid the urge to drink.

When combined with counseling, medication also offers relief for many people.

Blu By The Sea offers a holistic approach to anxiety and addiction that includes medical options, group and individual therapy, and so much more. Our medical staff offers supervised detox and withdrawal and works with clients to determine which, if any, medications are needed. Our counseling staff provides group and individual therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We also offer a range of complementary services to heal your body and soul, such as nutritious meals prepared onsite, yoga, art therapy, spa therapy, walks on the beach, and gym access. If you or someone you love struggles with anxiety and addiction, call Blue By The Sea today. Our staff is ready to help you.