How Does Addiction Impact Anxiety?

For individuals that struggle with anxiety, adding the “extra layer” of addiction on top of it can be overwhelming. This is a common phenomenon - co-occurring disorders occur in most people who struggle with addiction. It is unknown which comes first because mental health disorders and addiction can affect each other and worsen symptoms, trapping the person in a constant destructive cycle. Understanding how addiction impacts anxiety can help individuals currently struggling realize that their temporary fixes will cause more damage over time by worsening symptoms. This can give hope and prompt these individuals to seek treatment. 

Defining Anxiety

First and foremost, it is essential to define the term “anxiety.” It is often used quite loosely by the general public. Having anxiety or an anxiety disorder is diagnosed by examining a history of specific symptoms. It is possible to experience anxiety without having an anxiety disorder. This is because anxiety is how your body naturally responds to stress or overwhelming situations to brace for what is to come. However, prolonged anxiety over a couple of months could point to anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Illness anxiety disorder

Any one of these disorders can be diagnosed if you have had symptoms that are particular to anxiety over several months. These symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Raised heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Racing thoughts
  • Problems focusing
  • Fidgeting
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness

Anxiety and Addiction

Many people that have an anxiety disorder often look for outlets to escape their symptoms. For those that are unaware of healthier ways to cope, many unfortunately turn to drugs and alcohol as a means to escape. The symptoms of anxiety can be overwhelming and even frightening, and drugs and alcohol can make an easy coping method. However, this can have destructive consequences by worsening the anxiety symptoms over time; this occurs because of how addiction impacts your brain. 

Withdrawal symptoms from not using a substance can cause you to crave it each time you try to quit. Your brain may begin to unnecessarily worry because it knows it will be “rewarded” with drugs or alcohol to stop the anxious thoughts. You may also become anxious because you are worried you won’t be able to use again soon. Over time, you will become dependent on these substances, causing you to prioritize them over everything in your life. Your anxiety symptoms may continue to worsen, so you increase the amount of drugs or alcohol you consume as a means to achieve the desired effects. This causes your body to crave them more and experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. When this occurs, you become trapped in the cycle of obsession and compulsion that is addiction. 

Treating Anxiety and Addiction

Because of the high levels of co-occurring anxiety and addiction disorders in the United States, many facilities are equipped to treat both of them simultaneously. Anxiety and addiction are some of the most frequent psychiatric problems in the U.S. This means that treatment options must be widely available to help those currently struggling. Treating both disorders is essential, as it helps keep individuals from relapsing later on.

It is crucial to treat addiction and any co-occurring disorders simultaneously to give the individual the best chance at recovery. By only addressing the concerns of addiction, the person is more likely to relapse in the future because the underlying issues are still unresolved. Addressing both issues simultaneously helps heal the whole person and gives them perspective on why they began using drugs and alcohol in the first place. This way, they can manage their symptoms through various coping techniques that apply to both anxiety disorders and triggers for addiction.

Treatment Modalities

When it comes to treating co-occurring disorders, a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care is often used. Treatment programs will usually include detoxification, various therapies, holistic practices, relapse prevention, and aftercare. Some therapies used include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), somatic therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), family therapy, motivational interviewing, individual and group therapy, and various experiential therapies. Over time, these will help the person identify and overcome the underlying roots of their addiction to manage symptoms later on. 

Following treatment, aftercare services are provided to ensure the person is set up for success in their new life of sobriety. Aftercare will ensure they are properly equipped with coping skills, relapse prevention, and in contact with other sober individuals for support.

Anxiety and addiction often go hand in hand. Unfortunately, the two disorders can make each other worse over time. This is how many individuals become stuck in the cycle of worsening anxiety and addiction, causing them to have to seek help eventually to protect themselves and their health. Because of the prevalence of co-occurring anxiety and addiction disorders, various facilities across the United States treat them both simultaneously. One such facility is NorthStar Transitions in Boulder, Colorado. NorthStar is committed to helping its clients heal from mental health and addiction disorders through various evidence-based treatment modalities tailored to each person’s treatment needs. NorthStar knows that treating these disorders simultaneously gives their clients a better chance at maintaining sobriety in the future. Of course, clients are always welcome back should they ever need extra support in their recovery. Call us today to start your recovery journey at (303) 558-6400. Healing begins at NorthStar. 

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