If you or someone you love is struggling with a co-occurring anxiety and substance use disorder, you’re not alone. For one, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the U.S.; they impact nearly 40 million adults each year. Roughly 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder – and vice versa, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
A Look at Anxiety Disorders
Short-term anxiety is a normal and healthy response to new and stressful situations – but if you’re dealing with prolonged fear or nervousness and experiencing symptoms like sweating, shaking and nausea, it’s a bigger problem. Anxiety disorders can make asking and getting help for an addiction that much harder – and you’ll need to treat both conditions simultaneously to decrease your chance of relapse.
When you’re battling co-occurring anxiety and addiction, a big part of recovery is understanding anxiety and what it means for your recovery. Underlying anxiety disorders can waylay even the most earnest commitment to recovery.
The Cycle of Drugs, Anxiety and Addiction
Having both an anxiety disorder and a substance use disorder can create a vicious cycle. Many people with anxiety disorders attempt to self-medicate, turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the constant stress, worry or fear they’re experiencing. They mistakenly believe that the euphoric high of drugs or alcohol can fix their anxiety; but it’s a temporary fix. And, in fact, once the high wears off it can cause the user to turner to more or stronger substances to mimic the same euphoric feeling. The result: addiction.
What’s more, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol can actually worse the symptoms of anxiety by further disrupting emotions that are already imbalanced. And, of course, substance abuse clouds a person’s judgement, making it less likely that they’ll seek help for their mental health disorder. Sadly, less than 40 percent of people actually receive treatment for anxiety, according to ADAA.
Here’s a look at a few anxiety disorder and their link to substance abuse:
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder is more than just extreme shyness. It’s an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others and it can impact day-to-day activities as well as your recovery from a substance use disorder. People with social anxiety disorder are particularly vulnerable to alcohol abuse, using the substance to lower inhibitions and smother nervousness and anxiety. And because SAD suffers are often isolated and secretive out of habit, they have no problem hiding their addiction.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): There’s a big overlap between addiction and PTSD, with roughly 50 percent of individuals with PTSD also meeting the criteria for a substance use disorder. Many people mistakenly use drugs or alcohol to treat symptoms of PTSD like insomnia, traumatic dreams, mood disturbances and/or extreme emotions. Once again, self-medicating with these substances is short-lived and can make life less manageable over time.
- Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is often characterized by sudden, repeated attacks of fear that can last several minutes or longer and cause a strong physical reaction. For example, it can feel like you’re having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and cause people with panic disorder to worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack. Not only can alcohol and certain drugs cause a panic attack, but having a panic disorder can increase your risk of relapse if you’re struggling with a substance use disorder.
Helping a Loved One Who Has Anxiety and Addiction
If someone you care about is locked in the cycle of anxiety and addiction, our staff of highly trained addiction professionals, including our board-certified addiction psychiatrist, can help. To learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment, call today: 303-558-6400.