According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), those with anxiety disorders will often find that engaging in occasional social drinking or drug use will make the symptoms of their disorder significantly worse. Interestingly enough, those suffering from an anxiety disorder are also between two and three times more likely to suffer from a substance use disorder than members of the general population. It has been long-since understood that addiction and mental health go hand in hand, and that anxiety is closely linked to substance abuse in a multitude of ways. ADAA also reports that 20 percent of Americans who suffer from a mood disorder will struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, and that 20 percent of those with an addictive disorder will simultaneously struggle with a mood-related mental health concern. So, which comes first – anxiety or addiction?
The truth of the matter is, it is difficult to determine which issue precedes the other in the majority of instances. It’s similar to the age old adage, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” One thing is for certain – experiencing both disorders at the same time can lead to a vicious and unmanageable cycle of severe anxiety and substance abuse. The symptoms of one disorder will exacerbate symptoms of the other, leading to a deeper and deeper decline into mental illness and addiction. Those who suffer from undiagnosed and/or untreated anxiety disorders will often turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate unpleasant symptoms. Those who have been abusing drugs and/or alcohol for an extended period of time will experience anxiety when their substance of choice is not available, or when they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. The two are intertwined.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorder
There are many different types of anxiety-related disorder. The most common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is the most common anxiety-related disorder, and it is characterized by persistent feelings of stress and worry, especially in relation to certain aspects of one’s life (like interpersonal relationships, work like, or financial security). Additional symptoms include rapid heartbeat, trouble focusing, upset stomach, an inability to leave the house, and the active avoidance of certain situations. GAD is often crippling to its sufferers unless treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
- Panic disorder. Panic disorder is marked by brief episodes of extreme panic, usually coupled with symptoms like hyperventilation, uncontrollable crying, and shaking/body tremors. Those with panic disorder often turn to substances like alcohol and prescription sedatives to help them through these episodes.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is common amongst those with a substance use disorder. Unresolved trauma is one of the leading causes of addiction, in fact. The use of substances will exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD, which might include flashbacks, insomnia, the avoidance of specific people, places or things, or an inability to stay calm in certain situations. It is crucial that these two conditions are treated simultaneously. Fortunately, many addiction specialists are now being cross-trained in trauma recovery because of the prevalence of comorbidity.
- Social anxiety disorder. Substance abuse is extremely common amongst those with a social anxiety disorder. Those with social anxiety will feel extremely uncomfortable and panicked in social situations. This could be general, or it could be specific to a certain situation (such as public speaking, or attending a social event like a party). Those with this anxiety-related disorder will be overly concerned with what others think of them, and live in fear of judgement and exclusion. They may engage in heavy drinking to help alleviate these fears and insecurities.
- Phobias. A phobia refers to the fear of a specific person, place or thing. Everyone suffers from some type of fear… Some avoid spiders at all costs, others are afraid of heights or airplanes. Being afraid of things is perfectly normal, and it is usually our body’s way of self-preserving. Phobias go far beyond rational fear, and prevent people from actively participating in daily life. There is a difference between avoiding the circus because clowns creep you out, and breaking down into a legitimate panic attack if you see a clown at a children’s birthday party.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Those with obsessive compulsive disorder (a more severe and crippling anxiety disorder), will struggle with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, like counting repetitively or turning lights on and off repeatedly. Normally, these “ticks” are intended to help alleviate obsessive thoughts (which never works, of course). Those with OCD will very often struggle with a co-occurring substance abuse disorder, though drug and alcohol use will only worsen symptoms in the long-run.
If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder, you may feel hopeless and defeated, as if there is no way out. The truth is that you can overcome an anxiety disorder of any severity, even when it is coupled with substance abuse or addiction. Our program of dual diagnosis treatment is geared towards helping men and women of all ages overcome anxiety and addiction and go on to lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives as productive members of society.
Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction
It is important to understand that treating an anxiety disorder will not automatically treat substance abuse, and vice versa. In order for both disorders to be treated, they must be addressed thoroughly and simultaneously. Those with co-morbid disorders are at a significantly higher risk of relapse if not comprehensively treated in a dual diagnosis facility. In such a facility, a staff made up of addiction specialists and prescribing psychiatrists will work together to develop individualized treatment plans. Those suffering from anxiety will often require medication. Of course, many prescription medications can be habit-forming, thus special care must be taken when prescribing a medication to an individual with a history of substance abuse. Our dual diagnosis program provides patients with non-narcotic, non-addictive medication options that will help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and allow for thorough, lasting recovery. We understand that a treatment option that works for one patient will not necessarily work for another. For this reason, we provide regular, in-depth assessments, assuring that treatment is working and each patient is progressing towards his or her long-term goals.
If you feel as though you may be suffering from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, you very well might be. Do you feel panicked from time-to-time, unable to catch your breath, and concerned about many aspects of your daily life? Do you catch yourself worrying about “what ifs” and engaging in catastrophizing thought patterns? Does your chest feel tight when you go out in public; do you feel stressed out about your current circumstances? Maybe you find that when you do feel exceptionally stressed out or overwhelmed, your first inclination is to turn towards alcohol, or smoke a joint, or pop a pill. If this is the case, you are likely suffering from a dual diagnosis disorder. We offer free, no-obligation pre-assessments over the phone, geared towards helping you determine which treatment option would best suit your unique needs and requirements. To learn more about our program of dual diagnosis recovery or to get started on your own recovery journey, all you have to do is pick up the phone and give is a call – we will take it from there.