Anyone who has personally suffered from anxiety or knows someone who does understands that it can be debilitating in many different ways. It goes far beyond natural nerves and jitters and into the realm of physical symptoms so crushing that they severely affect a person’s quality of life. Many times, people who suffer from anxiety turn to substance abuse as a way to self-medicate. For this reason, treating anxiety disorders alongside substance abuse is key to achieving long-lasting sobriety.
Treating Anxiety Disorders and Addiction: What You Should Know
Not everyone who suffers from anxiety is an addict, and not every addict suffers from anxiety. However, there is a large group of people who fall under the category of “suffering from both”, and it is not a pleasant place to be. When a person enters substance abuse treatment, it is standard practice that additional tests are done to identify underlying mood disorders that may be contributing to addiction. Mood disorders are increasingly common, have a strong correlation with substance abuse, and include anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Being diagnosed with both is called a dual diagnosis. In these cases, the client is treated for both their anxiety and their addiction separately, but at the same time. The purpose of this is to figure out a long-term solution for their anxiety that can help keep symptoms in check as the individual progresses in their sobriety. So many people fall victim to their symptoms and turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope, and this needs to be prevented.
Treating anxiety disorders usually encompasses a mix of medications that are non-habit-forming, therapy, and a healthy lifestyle. While a person is in rehab, they can spend the time building a foundation to living an anxiety-free life once they are done with their program. This is fundamental in staying sober and clean.
How Anxiety Contributes to Addiction
Anxiety manifests as different symptoms in everyone who is affected, but some are universal, including but certainly not limited to:
- A feeling of intense dread
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- The feeling that something terrible is about to happen
- Hot and cold flashes
- Irrational fear and phobias
- Panic attacks
These symptoms can be severe enough to prevent a person from being able to function normally at school or work. A severe and acute form of anxiety is known as a panic attack, which can produce feelings that make a person think they are suffering from a heart attack or another life-threatening condition. The worst part about panic attacks is that once they occur, a person with anxiety lives in constant fear that they will happen again.
This all contributes to addiction very simply. People use drugs and alcohol to perceive that they are feeling better. Even though they are actually harming their body by ingesting drugs and alcohol, they will get to a point where the anxiety slips away and they feel like they can conquer anything. For example, a person with social anxiety may have no problems getting on stage and giving a toast after a bunch of drinks, when the same act would trigger a panic attack if they were sober.
On a more serious level, a person with anxiety may start to think that they can’t accomplish anything without drinking or taking drugs, and this is when things start to get out of control. Going to the supermarket will require a shot of whiskey. Going to a niece’s birthday party might need to be preceded by sniffing drugs. This cycle gets out of control fast and continues to get worse and worse until the person stops, gets help, or – sadly – dies.
The ironic thing is that a person suffering from anxiety probably looks at drugs or alcohol as their ally – the “one” that helps them feel better when anxiety rears its ugly head. While it may work short-term, when the alcohol runs dry and the drugs aren’t available, anxiety will come back 100 times worse.
Treatment for Anxiety
Treating anxiety disorders alongside drug or alcohol abuse is an essential part of the process of recovery. It is important that people understand the condition and that there are ways out without harming themselves with alcohol and drugs. Getting relief from anxiety symptoms can be the key part of saying goodbye to drugs and alcohol for good. At Willow Place for Women, we specialize in treating addiction alongside co-occurring disorders in our patients. If you need help with an anxiety problem that is fueling drug or alcohol use, call us today at 1-888-651-4212.