Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concerns experienced in America today. While everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, an anxiety disorder occurs when someone experiences recurring symptoms of anxiety (constant dread, fear, shortness of breath, social difficulty) regularly for at least six months. These symptoms, if left unchecked, can interfere with work, relationships, sex life, or normal day-to-day behavior.
One of the most common side effects of dealing with an anxiety disorder can be self-medication that leads to addiction. Unfortunately, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who struggle with anxiety are two times as likely to also suffer from a substance abuse issue. This is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.
While it may seem that self-medicating helps with anxiety, dependency can lead to addiction as more and more drugs and alcohol are needed to combat the anxiety. In fact, alcohol and drug use generally worsen the symptoms of anxiety and can lead to a vicious spiral of dependency and addiction. Here at Unity Behavioral Health, we have specialists ready to help you diagnose and
Different Types of Anxiety Can Lead to Addiction
While it is common for everyone to experience certain symptoms of anxiety occasionally, anxiety disorders are diagnosable, recurring moderate to extreme symptoms of stress, debilitation, fear, physical weakness/shortness of breath, and social difficulty.
There are several distinct types of diagnosable anxiety that can be treated with unique approaches or medication. One or all of the following issues can lead to dependency on substance use to cope.
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
In this instance, people suffering from GAD report suffering from an almost constant, often debilitating state of fear or dread, often for no discernible reason. Patients suffering from General Anxiety Disorder constantly manifest worries that may or may not have any basis in reality.
Panic Disorder may be diagnosed when someone suffers from regular panic attacks, which are sudden, often uncontrollable bouts of fear and impending doom. These panic attacks are often accompanied by extreme physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, extreme sweating, chest pain, or even nausea.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety (or SAD) is identified by a recurring fear of interaction with people, generally larger groups or social situations. People suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder may feel symptoms similar to those of someone suffering from panic disorder, such as shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, extreme sweating, and the like.
Often people suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder will refuse to go out in public or large groups, have a fear of public speaking, or being the center of attention and will commonly self-isolate to avoid social interaction.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly found in individuals who have suffered a traumatic, life-altering event such as the sudden death of a loved one, physical harm or assault, or sudden end of a relationship.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, between 11% and 20% of combat veterans return home suffering from mild to severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
While the various anxiety disorders take different forms, they are often associated with generally similar symptoms including but not limited to:
- Rapid breathing and increased heart rate
- Headaches or dizziness
- Extreme sweating
- Desire to isolate or avoid people
- Constant fear or dread
- Declining sex drive or energy
- Throat swelling or the sensation thereof
Underlying Causes of Anxiety or Addiction
While some may experience anxiety disorders or addictive behavior without any of the following prevailing factors, most patients with these difficulties exhibit one or more of the following:
- Genetic Disposition: Often both anxiety and addictive tendencies can be inherited from one or both parents, leaving some to suffer by no fault of their own.
- Trauma: Often traumatic events can lead to the development of anxiety disorders or the use/abuse of substances as a coping mechanism.
- Excessive Drug/Alcohol Use: Occasionally, people can develop an anxiety disorder as a symptom of excessive drug or alcohol abuse.
- Relationship or Workplace Stress: These are common contributors to the onset of anxiety disorders as well as being precursors to substance use. Often, alcohol is used as a coping mechanism when the stressors of life seem to be too overwhelming.
The Relationship Between Anxiety and Addiction
People who suffer from anxiety disorders are significantly more likely to also struggle with substance abuse issues. In fact, anxiety (and other mental health issues such as depression) can feed substance abuse/addiction and vice versa. The diagnosable presence of both anxiety and addiction is known as a Dual Diagnosis.
In the case of co-occurring conditions, it is important to pinpoint the origins of the individual issues as much as possible to learn if/when one issue is exacerbating the other. There are many reasons why an anxiety disorder may spur a substance abuse issue or vice versa:
- Self-medicating symptoms: Often a person struggling with anxiety may turn to alcohol or drugs to mask the feelings of dread or stress they are feeling. For example, a corporate businessman who deals with extreme “on the job” stress may feel the need to “drink to forget” upon returning from work. The opposite can also be true, wherein someone with a drug or alcohol problem begins to exhibit symptoms of various forms of anxiety due to excessive substance use.
- Physiological factors: Both substance use disorders and anxiety disorders can potentially be related to biochemical imbalances in the brain. For example, serotonin imbalance, (a chemical found in the brain that regulates stress levels, mood, or anxiety) has been linked to both substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
- Family History: Both addiction and anxiety disorders can often be inherited from one or both parents. Anxiety can be more prevalent in a patient whose parents struggled with anxiety or substance abuse, and vise versa.
- Substance Abuse or Withdrawal: Alcohol or drug abuse will often lead to increased symptoms of anxiety. In fact, anxiety is often one of the first symptoms to materialize when someone begins treatment for addiction. Also, the symptoms of chemical withdrawal (sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, etc) are often very similar to the symptoms of various anxiety disorders.
Approaching Someone Struggling with Anxiety or Addiction
Often the first step to recovery from an anxiety or addiction disorder can be the love and concern of family or friends. While it may seem daunting to approach someone dealing with these issues, the alternative of ignoring them can be significantly worse.
According to many experts, interventions for these types of disorders often have success rates somewhere between 70% and 90%.
Results are also reported significantly better when the intervention is led by a trained professional, like the ones we have on staff at Unity Behavioral Health. It is important to approach someone suffering from these disorders with compassion, understanding, and practical solutions.
At Unity Behavioral Health, we are committed to providing resources and treatment options that take the fear and difficulty out of moving towards recovery or helping a loved one do the same.
Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis of Anxiety and Addiction
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety can be treated effectively with both therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT for short, has been proven to be one of the most effective therapeutic methods treating both anxiety and addiction.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves the identification and redirection of harmful, negative, recurring thought patterns. CBT, which can be implemented in both individual or group environments, will help patients identify recovery goals and work towards completion and can be effective for both anxiety or addiction type disorders.
Anxiety disorders can often be caused by unresolved or repressed trauma. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be found in individuals that have experienced this type of Trauma. CBT has proven to be one of, if not the most effective therapeutic method of treatment for PTSD.
However, According to the National Institute of Health, therapeutic modalities, combined with medication such as sertraline, can increase success significantly.
Often, medication in the SSRI (Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitor) category, (such as commonly prescribed Citalopram, Zoloft, or Paxil) is found to be effective in conjunction with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and other types.
Experience the Unity Behavioral Health Difference Today!
People experiencing symptoms of both anxiety and addiction require specialized treatment that speaks to both issues independently. At Unity Behavioral Health, we are prepared to help with all forms of anxiety disorder and no matter what level of addiction.
Our state-of-the-art facilities are designed to help make the transition to recovery as easy as possible. Our various locations include incredible amenities including luxurious pools, adventure trails, comfortable rooms, and spacious facilities.
At Unity Behavioral Health, we have both counselors and Board Certified Psychiatrists on hand to help find the proper combination of treatment and/or medication. Contact us today to discuss your options!