Anxiety and Addiction

There are more Americans who suffer from an anxiety disorder than any other mental illness. Over 80% of adults in the US experience some form of anxiety, according to the National Institute on Mental Health.

Anxiety disorders may occur from social anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety disorders have similar symptoms of fear, but each will bring on different symptoms and causes. Individuals with an anxiety disorder will have a high likelihood of suffering from substance abuse and addiction, also. Individuals will find themselves misusing alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms of anxiety and addiction. 

However, alcohol and drug use will only make the psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety more significant. This will even trigger cravings, which will require more of the substance or drug function again as usual. The result becomes a cycle of substance abuse that eventually will lead to chemical dependence and addiction.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders could help individuals with anxiety and addiction to recover. It starts with learning the signs and symptoms of anxiety and addiction, wanting to help yourself or a loved one, and knowing your treatment options

Anxiety Disorder Types

Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, from a consistent feeling of dread to intense, paralyzing fear. Different types of anxiety disorders will require a dual diagnosis during the treatment process. Anxiety disorders are broken down into different categories and conditions with each disorder categorized by an unusual symptom. Some anxiety disorder symptoms that manifest from fear and worry may last six months or longer. 

Here is a list of some of the more frequently diagnosed anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: GAD brings long-lasting symptoms, including consistent worrying and extremely tense, without an apparent reason. 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: OCD consists of having recurring thoughts or repetitive behaviors. Individuals with OCD will perform monotonous rituals, such as counting, cleaning, or regularly washing hands to provide relief temporarily from their obsessions and compulsions.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD well developed after exposure to a traumatic event that may involve the threats of extreme physical harm. Being exposed to events like violence, a natural disaster, accidents, or war can cause PTSD.
  • Social anxiety disorder: SAD is a social phobia which is characterized by extreme anxiety and self-consciousness in ordinary social circumstances.
  • Panic disorder: A panic disorder is characterized by consecutive episodes of intense fear combined with physical symptoms like dizziness, heavy breathing, and rapid heartbeat. 

Specific anxiety disorders have more apparent causes, and then others. It would be best if you never tried to diagnose an anxiety disorder type without the help of a medical professional. The reasons behind anxiety and addiction vary, but the signs and symptoms can be recognized. 

Anxiety Disorder Signs and Symptoms

Although anxiety can take many forms, all anxiety disorders have apparent signs and symptoms in common with each other. Some of the critical warning signs of an anxiety disorder may include: 

  • Overwhelming fear that occurs a majority of days per week and lasts up to six months or more.
  • They are declining in quality of job performance, social activities, relationships, or just in everyday life as a result of the fear.
  • Repetitive attempts to resolve the concern the fear brings but have not had success.
  • Using substances such as drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, overeating, or other changes in behavior become habits to manage anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety has a direct influence on the physical body. Individuals with anxiety can have physical responses to situations or objects that put them into a panic. The panic response to an anxiety disorder may include: 

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Choking sensation
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating profusely
  • Nausea
  • Trembling

To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, those symptoms must be experienced most days of the week for at least six months or longer. However, individuals whose lives are affected by the disability this fear can give; they should not wait to seek professional medical help. With the right program and therapies, anxiety and addiction can be treated. 

Causes of Anxiety Disorder

Research shows that physiological, biological, and environmental factors will contribute to an individual’s likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. Most individuals with an anxiety disorder will react to stress differently than others without for genetic reasons.

Studies have shown that part of the brain that processes fears in individuals with anxiety problems have an unusually high sensitivity to stress from unfamiliar places and situations. The chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters will play a significant role in anxiety disorders also. Serotonin and cortisol, in particular, are also connected to feelings of depression and anxiety. 

Genetics and family history are also crucial risk factors for anxiety. About 50% of individuals with panic disorders and 40% of individuals with generalized anxiety disorder have family histories of the diseases.

Some other mental illnesses that may contribute to anxiety disorder may include: 

  • Individuals with depression will often feel symptoms of anxiety. A combination of depression and anxiety will increase the risk of substance abuse and possibly suicide.
  • Individuals with bipolar disorder often feel symptoms of panic disorder, and when anxiety arises, this can make bipolar disorder worse.
  • Anxiety disorders and eating disorders have a high association with each other. And obsessive-compulsive disorder may contribute to an eating disorder.
  • Anxiety disorder is a significant risk factor for substance use and abuse. Anxiety contributes to alcoholism and drug abuse very often. Individuals with PTSD are also at a higher risk for chronic pain, which will increase the risk of abusing opioids.

Substance abuse can lead to addiction and anxiety disorders. Studies show that anxiety and substance use disorders twine together at much higher than average rates. Some other risk factors for anxiety disorders may include gender and age. Women who suffer from anxiety at a rate double that of men. 

Symptoms of OCD, phobias, and separation anxiety are developed during the use years. Panic disorders and social phobia symptoms will appear in the teenage years. 

Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is most common in people with anxiety disorders than others without. For example, anxiety disorders have been linked through studies with higher rates of alcohol abuse and a higher chance of relapse after alcohol rehab. Individuals with anxiety and addiction may also experience more severe withdrawal symptoms upon stopping their alcohol or drug use.

The coexistence of a drug or alcohol addiction and an anxiety disorder or another form of mental illness is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. 

There are many different reasons why anxiety disorder may trigger an addiction; here are just a few: 

  • Self-managing symptoms: Individuals start turning to drugs and alcohol in order to control their physical or psychological symptoms. For example, the guy in sales has a social anxiety disorder and uses alcohol to cope with his stressful job duties, which will put him at risk of chemical dependence and addiction eventually.
  • Biochemical factors: Anxiety disorder and substance use disorder are both related to chemical balances in the brain. For example, low levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, energy levels, metabolism, sleep, and other functions, have been linked with both alcoholism and mental illness according to studies. 
  • Genetic predisposition: it has been shown that anxiety and addiction both have a genetic component. Individuals who are vulnerable to anxiety are also prone to drug abuse and addiction if they have a family history where both conditions are prevalent.
  • Effects of anxiety and addiction withdrawal: Abusing drugs and alcohol can cause symptoms that resemble anxiety such as agitation, irritability, sleeplessness, nervousness, and overwhelming fears. Once the withdrawal process from substance abuse starts, the individual will experience restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia while the brain attempts to recover its chemical balance.

Treating Anxiety and Addiction

There are a select few healthcare facilities that will focus on treating people with co-occurring disorders. It is essential to address both the anxiety disorder and the substance use disorder simultaneously. Anxiety and addiction will increase the severity of alcohol and drug use disorder in which will increase the rate of relapse. 

Anxiety and addiction will reduce the recovery rate for an individual, and they also raise the risk of suicide for individuals with panic disorder. Treatment specialists that address co-occurring disorders will keep all of those factors in mind while they’re developing a custom treatment plan.

There are a couple of treatment options that are available for anxiety disorders: medications and therapy. The patient should always discuss their previous treatments in the history of medications with their doctor before they begin medication. The side effects will accompany every drug, and the health provider will ensure the benefits outweigh the risks.

Although medications won’t cure an anxiety disorder, they can lessen the symptoms. Some medications for anxiety disorder include:

  • Tricyclics: Some of the older antidepressants like tricyclics can’t help with anxiety but also come with significant risks.
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors: SSRIs have an effect on chemicals in the brain that can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors: MAOIs are useful, but they will interact with a multitude of other substances.
  • Anti-Anxiety Drugs: Benzo’s, such as Xanax, will act quickly but will cause extreme drowsiness and are very addictive once they become abused. 
  • Beta-Blockers: some drugs like Inderal are used to treat heart problems, but they do not have a success rate in treating social anxiety.

Medications will become the most effective when they are combined with therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy will help individuals just the way they react to situations that usually caused anxiety or change the way they perceive fears and know how to handle them when they present themselves.

When the patient becomes ready, they become exposed to fears to desensitize them in which will allow them to practice handling those fearful situations. Exposure therapy will be done only when the patient is comfortable and ready to partake.

CBT is most effective when included as part of group therapy. Stress management techniques, exercise, and lessening caffeine intake can help combat anxiety.

When anxiety and addiction become combined, the need for a competent professional medical recovery service will become even more urgent. In the US, all anxiety disorders constitute the most common type of mental illness between teens and adults. 

The recovery solution to anxiety and addiction is education and treatment through a professional recovery program that will integrate services for mental health and addiction.

Research shows that The best way to help individuals with dual diagnosis is to write out and execute a custom plan that will address both conditions at the same time.

Getting Help for Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction can be successfully treated with a combination of therapy, behavioral modification strategies, and anti-anxiety medications. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the first effective treatments for both anxiety and chemical dependence. Individuals with a dual diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and substance abuse will use CBT to learn new coping strategies that will guide them through the recovery goals, even when in high-stress situations that make them want to use. CBT can also be applied in individual therapy and also group therapy sessions.

Individuals with a dual diagnosis will require specialized treatment that will address both of the issues. The recovery program for call occurring substance abuse and anxiety will include several levels of care. It will start with detox and will continue through a residential or inpatient rehab stay, an outpatient treatment, and followed up with aftercare. A 12 step involvement, family therapy, and equine-assisted therapy will also assist in the recovery process by strengthening the individual support system and rewire them to learn their sense of self-worth.

Individuals with co-occurring anxiety and addiction will need professional medical treatment to recover fully. Our healthcare facilities at North Jersey Recovery specialize in treating co-occurring disorders with a high success rate of helping individuals recover from addiction and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. 

Let North Jersey Recovery Center Help

Whether through therapy, medication, or both, our health care professionals at North Jersey Recovery have proven methods for reducing symptoms and helping our patients fully recover.

A long-term treatment program may be mandatory depending on the severity and the length of the anxiety and addiction conditions. Our health professionals will help our patients determine the best course of treatment to help them recover and live a sober lifestyle. 

If you or a loved one find yourself suffering from anxiety and addiction, please don’t hesitate to call or experts and allow us to give you the options available. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we understand how difficult this is, and our approach is to treat you like a person and not just a patient. Contact us today! 

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.