To discuss the relationship between addiction and anxiety, first we must take a look at what anxiety is. A lot of times, people may throw around the term “anxiety” or “anxious” but they may not truly understand what it means to experience this often-debilitating state of being.
Anxiety and Panic Disorder
Anxiety is a very uncomfortable and scary experience to live with. Someone who experiences anxiety lives in fear of the onset of an anxiety attack at any moment. Often times, this fear is what brings on the anxiety and so, it is a rather vicious circle for those who have anxiety. People with anxiety problems usually structure their lives around their condition and are guided by fear: they will avoid public and social situations, have a hard time maintaining personal relationships, as well as find it difficult to hold down a job because of these overwhelming fears.
Anxiety is part of a medical condition called panic disorder and panic disorder is more common than you might think. One in 75 people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64, according to Psychology Today, experience panic disorder at least once during their lifetime.
Panic disorder is described as this: attacks that last for about 10 minutes and averaging at least one attack per week for four weeks or more. Panic attacks are not fatal but, to the person who is suffering the attack, it can feel like they are dying. People with anxiety and panic disorder live in fear of having future attacks and losing control in public places.
Addiction and Anxiety: Self-Medication
People with anxiety and panic disorder will often turn to alcohol and other drugs as a means of numbing their fears or as a way to calm themselves down. Just like for people with other mental health issues, people with anxiety use substance abuse as an escape, and all of this describes what is known as the behavior of self-medicating.
Oftentimes, this propensity to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs then develops into an addiction.
Behaviour Research and Therapy published a study that found that alcoholism occurs in 10% to 40% of people who have panic disorder, and that 10% to 20% of people with panic disorder also struggle addiction and anxiety. As with other mental illness and substance abuse, there is a chicken-or-the-egg debate but, the study also found that the symptoms of anxiety often began before the alcoholism or drug addiction developed – confirming that substance abuse (and later, addiction) is often used as a way to self-medicate. In spite of the harmful consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, many people with both addiction and anxiety issues believe that drinking or using drugs are effective ways to alleviate their panic symptoms.
Addiction and Anxiety: Synergy
Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may seem to temporarily relieve anxiety but, ultimately drugs will only make matters worse. Unfortunately, because alcohol and drugs can trigger panic attacks, this attempt at self-medication often makes the disorder worse. This is the synergetic effect.
There are dual diagnosis treatment facilities that specialize in handling the challenges of co-occurring disorders, such as addiction and anxiety, to help people in getting the benefits of recovery in a comfortable and safe environment.
Addiction and Anxiety: Dual Diagnosis
Dual diagnosis treatment is specialized treatment for people with both mental health and substance abuse issues, such as those with addiction and anxiety. It is important to seek out this type of treatment because it can be difficult to treat – people with anxiety tend to be unstable emotionally which is only exacerbated by their use of substances.
For people with addiction and anxiety issues, the recovery process involves learning healthy ways to cope with their anxiety symptoms without the use of habit-forming medications. Treatment goals include acquiring a state of inner calm and balance so that they can then focus on their drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation .
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse issues or addiction and anxiety issues, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.