Anxiety & Addiction: What’s the Connection?
Originally posted on https://www.washburnhouse.com/addiction-recovery-blog/anxiety-and-addiction/
Anxiety before a big performance is normal. An anxiety disorder is not, but overwhelming stress that you can’t shake is common among Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31.1% of adults in the U.S. will experience some level of anxiety disorder in their lifetime. It’s no surprise that anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness. This growing trend is cause for concern, and not just because the symptoms are scary. Decades of research have proven anxiety and addiction go hand-in-hand.
Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety can manifest in many ways, depending on the person, but no matter who you are, it’s hard to deal with. The National Institute of Mental Health says, “Anxiety disorders can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.” Anxiety disorders are disruptive because they create constant panic that you cannot control. Other surefire signs of anxiety include: [one-half-first]
- A sense of doom
- Weakness or fatigue
- Trouble concentrating on daily activities
- Trouble sleeping
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
- Stomachache or other GI problems
To be clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you must have these symptoms most days for at least six months. At that point, you may be diagnosed with one or more types of anxiety.
How Anxiety Relates to Addiction
“The presence of an anxiety or substance use disorder is also a risk factor for the presence of the other disorder,” according to Psychiatry Times. In other words, having an anxiety disorder puts you at risk of a drug addiction, and vice versa. When both are active, it’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Since there are several different anxiety disorders, dual diagnosis can take many forms. Generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder are highly associated with substance use disorders. Alcohol abuse is more closely connected to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than drug use is. While PTSD isn’t an anxiety disorder, it’s often characterized by feelings of anxiety and panic attacks. Having an anxiety disorder doesn’t just put you at risk of addiction: It can cause addictive behaviors. A 2004 study of 86 adolescents (15 to 22 years old) helped prove that anxiety can cause substance use. When researchers followed up with participants 7.4 years later, those who managed their anxiety were less likely to use substances. But why does anxiety cause addiction?
- When someone suffers from anxiety, they may use drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings.
- When someone hasn’t been properly diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, they might turn to drugs and alcohol as self-medication.
- When someone with anxiety has impulsive behaviors, they may use drugs and alcohol out of boredom. In this case, addictive behavior is almost subconscious.
Treating a co-occurring disorder requires special care and attention. The good news is anxiety and addiction are often caused by the same—or similar—factors, including:
- Brain chemistry
- Life-changing events
By addressing these areas, you can treat the underlying issues.
Treatment Options for Anxiety and Addiction
The American Addiction Centers says that the most effective form of treatment for people with dual diagnoses is one that addresses both conditions at the same time. A study in Alcohol and Alcoholism found that this kind of care improved “drinking outcomes for patients with alcohol dependence and comorbid depression/anxiety disorder.” The study compared cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety and alcohol abuse to typical counseling for alcohol problems alone. CBT, which addressed both conditions, was more effective than the usual counseling methods. This shows that addressing both alcohol dependence and anxiety/depression together is the best path to recovery. Regardless of which came first, anxiety and addiction can be treated side-by-side. Here are your treatment options:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you how to overcome the thoughts that lead to anxiousness or substance use.
Anti-anxiety medications typically increase serotonin. It’s a chemical in your body—the feel-good hormone related to positive mood. Anxiety medication should only be used under the supervision of your doctor. Benzodiazepines, for instance, have the potential for abuse, so they’re not generally used for people with substance-use disorders.
Drug Treatment Centers
Some drug treatment centers specialize in treating co-occuring disorders, especially if you live with both anxiety and addiction.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
The most common types of anxiety disorders include:
Agoraphobia is the fear of public places and situations that make you feel trapped. This anxiety disorder can be brought on after a couple episodes of panic in public places. Some fearful situations include:
- Being alone in an unknown place
- Traveling in an enclosed space (car, bus, train)
- Attending a crowded event
An estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults experience agoraphobia at some point in their lives.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is known as GAD. It includes persistent and excessive worry for no particular reason. Usually, the worry is inflated compared to the actual event or activity. This form of anxiety is hard to control and often comes along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
A panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks: sudden bouts of anxiety that can last several minutes. More than 1 million Americans experience panic attacks every month; each episode lasts 10 minutes on average. During a panic attack, you might feel:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
That’s why many people liken panic attacks to heart attacks. You may also feel impending doom, which makes your feeling of worry worse.
Social anxiety affects 15 million adults, which is 6.8% of the U.S. population. If you suffer with a social phobia, you avoid social gatherings at all costs because they make you feel embarrassed or like everyone is judging you. If you get into an uncomfortable social situation, you may experience a panic attack.
Many people fear specific situations, like swimming in the ocean or flying on an airplane. A specific phobia can also be the fear of an object or animal, like spiders. With nearly 9% of American adults experiencing a specific fear in any given year, they’re not uncommon. If you have a severe case, you could change your daily routine to avoid the situation, object, or animal. Specific phobias can spur panic attacks.
You Are Not Alone
A qualified treatment center will provide cognitive behavioral therapy, medication-assisted therapy, and more. If you’re suffering with anxiety and addiction, call the medical professionals at Washburn House. We are experienced in treating dual diagnoses and offer a range of treatment options to suit your needs. With a custom treatment plan, you can recover from your addiction and stay sober for years to come with skills to cope with your anxiety.