Examining the Relationship between Anxiety and Addiction

Examining the Relationship between Anxiety and Addiction

Many individuals who seek treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction will have an additional affliction with a mental disorder. Since addictions and mental disorders can play off of one another, it is best to treat the two simultaneously. Anxiety can form as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction just as a drug or alcohol addiction can form as a result of anxiety. No matter which comes first, it is important to understand the effects and treatment of anxiety and addiction with dual diagnosis in treatment programs.

What are Anxiety and Phobias?

With a staggering 18% of adults suffering from the disorder, anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental health problem in the United States of America. Additionally, one-fifth of those people also have a drug or alcohol addiction. Anxiety is a reaction of fear felt in response to stressful situations, brought on by the ‘fight or flight’ reflex of the limbic system of the brain. There are a few different anxiety disorders that are often accompanied by addiction.

Phobias, on the other hand, are anxiety disorders triggered by certain fears an individual may have. These phobias are usually very unrealistic fears that provide an uncanny amount of anxiety for the individual diagnosed. People with this disorder will avoid their phobias at all cost, even if it is detrimental to their own well-being.

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This type of anxiety disorder involves a constant feeling of dread and worry. Most times these fears are unrealistic, yet the individual will perceive them as a direct and immediate threat.

Panic Disorder: Individuals diagnosed with panic disorder have panic attacks that debilitate them from doing daily tasks. These attacks are overwhelming feelings of panic that can stop breathing, cause extreme chest pains, raise heart rate, and induce nausea. These panic attacks are not deadly, yet the individuals that experience them feel like they are dying while they happen. The fear of having another panic attack is a defining characteristic of panic disorder; those with the diagnosis will avoid social situations in fear of experiencing another attack.

Social Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety from this disorder derives from being around people. Those with social anxiety will avoid any circumstances with crowds or people they are not comfortable with. Individuals with social anxiety disorder will most likely have other anxiety disorders like panic disorder or claustrophobia.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This anxiety disorder is developed as a result of experiencing a traumatic event. Those with the disorder experience flashbacks and hallucinations of their traumatic experience. Other symptoms include vivid nightmares, the inability to sleep, paranoia, and anger. Flashbacks can occur during daily life, so many with PTSD will avoid connection to people.

Treatment of Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Fortunately, treatment for addiction is successful in patients who have the drive to attain sobriety. Unfortunately, treating addiction does not treat anxiety disorders. Since addiction and anxiety disorders can play off of one another, it is important to handle them together. Treating addiction and mood disorders simultaneously has been a growing concept since many of the afflicted by addiction also suffer from some kind of mood disorder. Dual diagnosis is a mental health and addiction program. In this kind of treatment, patients are given non-habit forming anxiety medication that does not interfere with their addiction treatment goals. A psychiatrist that specializes in addiction treatment should prescribe the medication based on the individual’s needs and past health records.

Along with medications, dual diagnosis includes intensive therapy to confront both mental health issues and addiction simultaneously. Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses behaviors and patterns seen in an addict’s life and aims to change perspective to change behavior.

Handling Anxiety in Addiction Treatment

Along with therapy and medicine that will be provided throughout a dual diagnosis program, there are some techniques to use to help manage anxiety during treatment. It is best to develop new ways to deal with your anxiety, now that your drug of choice cannot influence how you feel. Different techniques work for different individuals, so find one that works for you and use it whenever you need. Moderating your anxiety during treatment can include:

  • Living in the present moment. Try not to worry or focus too much on the past or present, as you cannot control them. Focus on the progress you want to make today and go for it.
  • Accept the things you cannot change in life. If you always focus on issues outside of your control, you will embrace the things within your control; namely treatment goals.
  • Being sober will help you to recognize the symptoms of your mental health issues better. Listen to your body and learn to pinpoint the causes and reasons for an anxiety flare up.
  • You are human; you will inevitably make mistakes. Be easy on yourself during treatment. Understand that you will feel stressed at times, but remember the progress that you have made thus far and keep moving forward!

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