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How are Anxiety Disorders and Drug Abuse Related?

Anxiety disorder and drug abuse are often diagnosed together. This is also true of other mental health disorders and addictions. When someone is dealing with a mental health disorder and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it is known as a co-occurring disorder. The majority of people with an addiction also have a mental health condition, so why is that?

What is Anxiety?

There are several types of anxiety, the most commonly diagnosed of which is a generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a reaction to stress and dangerous or unfamiliar situations. For instance, you might feel a sense of fear or dread before a big event. A certain level of anxiety is normal. It helps us be aware of what’s going on around us.

However, if you have too much anxiety or experience anxiety constantly, it may be diagnosable as an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear of a real or perceived threat and ongoing worry about a future threat. Anxiety can have adverse emotional and behavioral effects.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is defined as having a constant sense of fear and worry that interferes with daily life. You may not even know why you are feeling dread, agitation, or distress. You might always expect the worst when you have a generalized anxiety disorder. Your worries can encompass many different areas, such as family, money, work, or health.

You may experience GAD for no reason, or if there is a reason, your fear may be well out of proportion to the actual situation. Often when someone has GAD, they will realize their level of worrying is unwarranted, but they are unable to control it. Specific symptoms of GAD (that are also symptoms of many other types of anxiety disorders) include:

  • Excessive anxiety
  • Inability to control worries
  • Inability to relax
  • Concentration problems
  • Feeling on edge
  • Startling easily
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Jumping to the worst possible conclusions
  • Physical symptoms like stomach aches, muscle aches, and pain
  • Shakiness
  • Irritability

With GAD, the intensity of the symptoms may come and go.

Other Types of Anxiety

Along with generalized anxiety disorder, other types of anxiety-related mental health conditions include:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Also known as OCD, this anxiety disorder has symptoms that include recurrent, unwanted thoughts, and repetitive behaviors.
    • The thoughts are called obsessions and the repetitive behaviors are compulsions.
    • Repetitive behaviors commonly seen in OCD can include cleaning, counting, checking, and handwashing.
  • Someone with OCD might perform these rituals and get temporary relief. Not performing the rituals increases anxiety.
  • Panic Disorder: This anxiety disorder includes symptoms such as repeated times of intense fear along with physical symptoms.
    • Physical symptoms can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Also called social phobia, someone with this anxiety disorder will often feel overwhelming self-consciousness and anxiety in normal social situations.
    • Some people with social anxiety will only experience it in certain situations, such as when eating or drinking in front of other people.
    • For others, it is a broad condition and applies to any situation involving other people.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder rising from a traumatic event. Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include violence, war, and natural disasters.

How is Anxiety Treated?

If someone is experiencing an anxiety disorder and drug abuse, both conditions need to be treated for the best outcomes and the chance of a full recovery. In general, for someone with anxiety, there are many treatment options available. Treatment always depends on the person and their unique situation, as well as the type of anxiety disorder and its severity.

Additionally, there are self-treatment methods you can follow, including:

  • Using stress management strategies
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation
  • Working to replace negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Having a support network
  • Exercising

Counseling and therapy are also an important part of managing and treating anxiety disorders. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is one of the most frequent types of therapy used for anxiety disorders. When someone has an anxiety disorder and drug abuse problem, if they go to a rehab center, they will likely participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions.

The goal of this type of therapy is to help you identify and change damaging thought patterns that can lead to feelings of anxiety. CBT can also help limit distorted thinking and reduce your response to stressors.

Medications may also be used to help with both the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. For example, antidepressants are commonly used to treat anxiety. Antidepressants such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors have fewer side effects than some other types of antidepressants and can help anxiety disorders.

What is the Relationship Between an Anxiety Disorder and Drug Abuse?

Many times people with an anxiety disorder of any kind also develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. There are many different reasons for this. For instance, drug abuse might occur because you want to self-medicate for your symptoms. You might use prescription drugs in ways other than how they are prescribed to do that. For example, if you had a benzodiazepine prescription, and you used higher doses to self-medicate more than what your doctor prescribed you to, that could lead to drug addiction.

You might also use substances like marijuana or alcohol to deal with the symptoms of your anxiety disorder artificially. It is also possible that the anxiety itself, and the changes it creates in your brain, could predispose you to addiction.

The more you use substances to create a sense of calm, the higher the doses you need over time. This is known as developing a tolerance. If you have a specific type of anxiety, such as social anxiety disorder, you might rely on substances to get you through situations that trigger you. That then puts you at risk for addiction as well.

Anxiety Disorders and Drug Abuse—Dual Diagnosis

If you have an anxiety disorder and drug abuse, or an alcohol addiction, it is a dual diagnosis. When you seek treatment for a dual diagnosis, that treatment needs to be specialized. Treating someone with a mental health disorder and addiction is complex.

It requires professionals who are experienced in dealing with a broad array of conditions. We encourage you to learn more about the programs available through Resurgence. We can treat an anxiety disorder and drug abuse in a safe, supportive environment.

We understand that no two people are the same, so no two treatment plans are the same at Resurgence. Our team will work with you each step of the way to create a tailored and evolving treatment plan that’s the right fit for you. Resurgence program options include medical drug detox, inpatient, residential care, and outpatient treatment.

All our treatment programs are evidence-based, using leading-edge mental health and addiction research. We also offer both 12-step and SMART recovery groups. When you complete your treatment, you will benefit from aftercare planning.

Aftercare will include connecting you to community support and family support as well. Contact Resurgence today to learn how you can overcome your anxiety disorder and drug abuse. We can work with you to get started on the road to recovery.

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