Anxiety and Addiction

anxiety and addiction

Addiction can present itself in many different ways. Yet, one of the most common observations of those that suffer from substance abuse is anxiety. Anxiety occurring with addiction has an overwhelming connection, compared to any other association between illnesses. 

One of the reasons this can be explained is by examining the correlation between anxiety and self-medication. When symptoms of anxiety begin to arise, abusing drugs or alcohol to find relief may work temporarily. However, making this a habit brings with it an array of other risks including dependency or even potential overdose. 

Self-treatment of anxiety through substance abuse creates a cycle of suffering and addiction. By continuing on this path, it will soon begin to become even more difficult for a person to function properly. By further ignoring the needing for professional care for addiction and anxiety, rehab treatment, and psychological intervention, may become complicated. 

Diagnosing and Anxiety During Addiction Treatment

To treat anxiety, we must first understand what it means to have a psychological disorder. When a person initially describes their encounters with anxiety, the summary is likely sensations or feelings of uneasiness and uncomfortability. Because these can be considered normal feelings, without proper and experienced rehab evaluation performed by professionals, anxiety can go undiagnosed. 

During an intensive outpatient program (IOP), designed to treat those suffering from anxiety and addiction, a diagnosis can be made. This will require putting work into the program, and developing relationships with counselors and therapists.

For many, the experience of anxiety can be brought upon whether provoked or for no reason at all. IOP rehab will be able to identify these symptoms that can go unreported by working closely and observing behaviors. Anxiety and addiction, being so closely associated often encourage or worsen one’s condition during active addiction. This is why many become confused as to how to go about getting treatment, resorting to then continue abusing substances

What is Anxiety?

Feelings associated with anxiety are attributed to the body’s natural reaction to stimuli. Biologically, when a person perceives a threat is near, instinct kicks in. This is referred to as the fight or flight response. Sometimes, this is necessary and can be very helpful when functioning appropriately. It is often considered a healthy and expected reaction. Upon encountering a situation that requires heightened awareness or faster reaction times, it’s this function that we are tapping into. 

While being able to experience heightened alertness in an appropriate situation can be beneficial, when unprompted, anxiety can be problematic. Anxiety can begin to interfere with the ability to perform tasks that do not require advanced senses, causing stress. 

Trying to manage large amounts of stress can be overwhelming, and significant ties exist between stress and the development of addiction. For one reason or another, the body has shifted its settings into preservation mode, bringing with it a wave of unexpected and uncomfortable uneasiness. Sometimes having physical presentations, anxiety can affect a person’s quality of life, and interfere with daily function. 

The Impact of Anxiety on Daily Life

Having to cope with anxiety daily can become worrisome or even downright terrifying. To find relief, a person may begin to avoid certain situations altogether. Associating people, places, and things with these emotions. However, at some point, this will lead to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drug or alcohol abuse

Those that suffer from frequent or intense periods of anxiety are proper candidates to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Left untreated, this psychological illness can be very debilitating and require intensive therapeutic intervention. The longer an anxiety disorder goes undiagnosed, the more it will begin to affect normal daily functioning. 

The Cycle of Substance Abuse and Anxiety

Sometimes, anxiety has been shown to present daily, and other times with breaks in between. Out of desperation, many abuse substances as needed at first, unaware of how quickly dependency can develop. Once the dependency is established, addicts then suffer from both anxiety and addiction, unable to stop resorting to substance abuse. 

Whether using substances occurs as an attempt to suppress the illness, or to distract from symptoms, relief is only temporary. As the effects of the substances begin to wear off, the unsettling or even painful fear of anxiety will return and can be even more intense than prior. 

Now, stuck in the cycle of anxiety and substance abuse, dependency quickly turns into active addiction. To treat both illnesses, addiction rehab that includes psychological therapy becomes necessary. If you or someone you love is suffering from anxiety and self-medicating, it’s important to get rehab resources involved.

Anxiety is Both Psychological and Physical

Anxiety can have both physical and psychological manifestations. Typically, it involves a mix of both. This is what makes treating an anxiety disorder after diagnosis, a practice of trial, and error. It will take some patience to distinguish between symptoms caused by anxiety and cognitive behaviors developed in response. 

Fortunately, during anxiety and addiction treatment programs, cognitive behavioral therapy is offered and available. It will allow for time to be evaluated to make the determination and conclude with a course of action.

 A person can work with a specialized therapist to begin to redirect behaviors and feelings associated with anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapists will be assessed for both physical and mental presentations of an anxiety disorder. From there, coping skills can be taught and further developed to provide relief. 

Psychological Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder 

During therapy and treatment for anxiety and addiction, individuals will be observed for signs of any mental illness. Typical assessment begins after the process of detox has been completed. After detoxing, and the body is cleared of residual toxins from addiction, underlying psychological illness are more easily identified. 

Working with your therapist to prepare the best course of treatment is done with the help of a rehab professional. Assessment after detox includes recognizing the following psychological signs of an anxiety disorder: 

  • Irrational or unpredictable episodes of unease or worry that have persisted for more than 3 months 
  • Experiencing unprovoked or excessive panic with an unknown cause 
  • Having periods of intense fear that surpasses what is considered normal under the circumstances
  • Difficulty maintaining concentration or focus
  • A decrease in performance in any of the following areas:
    • Socialization with peers
    • Personal or intimate relationships
    • Work responsibilities
    • School performance
    • Sporting or social engagements
    • Satisfaction or overall quality of one’s life experience
  • Inability to resolve issues that have created a sense of uneasiness after more than 3 attempts
  • Efforts are taken to self-medicate or abuse substances
  • New or worsening depression
  • Whether compulsive behaviors are contributing to feelings of anxiousness

It is important to consider that every person’s experience with anxiety will be unique to them. This is because everyone’s life journey is an individual one. Getting professional treatment while in rehab is going to be important to achieve and maintain long-lasting sobriety goals. 

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Versus Addiction Withdrawal

After a psychological diagnosis is performed, specialists work to separate the physical symptoms of anxiety from withdrawal caused by addiction. Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are designed to help recovering addicts manage the symptoms of withdrawal after active addiction has ended. On many occasions, symptoms of anxiety and addiction withdrawal of those with a severe dependency can mimic the other. 

To properly treat the illness of anxiety, participation in the lessons and resources during PHP can offer guidance. Collaborating with rehab specialists while having the clarity of sobriety can help differentiate between anxiety and addiction. 

In cases where addiction was causing anxiety, symptoms should subside on their own, soon after detox, during partial hospitalization treatment. However, for others that continue to experience discomfort, additional therapies may be added to any treatment program. 

Identifying the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Many substances have similar symptoms of withdrawal when compared to an anxiety disorder. For example, a person that suffers from alcohol addiction may experience similar side effects after drinking has stopped. 

Alcohol detox and withdrawal are considered one of the most dangerous. Alcohol recovery and detox management are recommended to be performed under the care of a professional rehab team. 

Some of the symptoms of anxiety, that appear similar to an alcoholic’s experience during active addiction and detox include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
  • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and insomnia
  • Trouble swallowing or having the sensation of choking
  • Rapid or forced breathing, shortness of breath, or hyperventilation
  • Tightening of the voluntary muscles 
  • Uncontrollable shaking, trembling, or convulsions
  • Inability to gain composure or stay calm
  • Abdominal cramping, sour stomach, or pain
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Sweating without exertion
  • Dry mouth or eyes
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Clammy hands and feet
  • Loss of sensation or tingling in extremities

How the body reacts with anxiety will depend on many factors. Especially before rehab treatment, when substances are being abused. This makes it critical to have an accurate evaluation performed by a rehab specialist, who can provide appropriate care. The type of care administered will depend on more than just the symptoms of anxiety that are observed. This will also include assessing other psychological illnesses that often coexist, such as eating disorders, that can hinder recovery efforts. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Similar to the management of personality disorders, treating anxiety is not a one size fits endeavor. This is due to having different types of anxiety to distinguish between. Using the symptoms that have been reported or observed during therapy, and the frequency at which they occur determines the diagnosis. 

Some people struggling with anxiety and addiction experience feelings of their illness consistently. Others, on more of an occasional basis. Some even occur without being consciously aware. Depending on which factors are involved, a conclusion as to which classification of anxiety is relevant to treatment. Some categories include: 

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (also referred to as Social Phobia)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Determined by which type of psychological disorder is observed, anxiety and addiction treatment can be adjusted. Therapeutic care can begin during rehab and can be continued during recovery to manage symptoms. 

Who Do Anxiety and Addiction Affect the Most?

The most prevalent form of anxiety diagnosed during addiction treatment is generalized anxiety. It has been found to affect more women than men, by just over half. But that proves little to dictate the chances of development overall. Statistically, those suffering from a generalized disorder (GAD) make up about 6.8 million of the United States population. 

GAD is often referred to as chronic anxiety because the symptoms are experienced regularly, as often as daily, or even constantly. GAD also commonly presents with other treatable illnesses, such and depression, and substance use disorders. 

Whether in combination or alone, GAD can become very debilitating, infiltrating many different areas of a person’s life. This can make it difficult to cope or even enjoy experiences, through no fault of their own. When combined, this type of anxiety and substance abuse can wreak havoc within an individual’s personal and social environments. 

Unfortunately, when illnesses and addictions co-occur, triggers are likely going to be difficult to avoid without intervention. Getting treatment to manage and cope with anxiety and addiction will replenish the quality of life from those suffering.

Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and a Substance Use Disorder

For an individual to be suffering from two or more illnesses co-occurring, is an unfortunately common occurrence recognized during rehab. Commonly referred to as having a dual diagnosis, those with anxiety and addiction have an especially difficult time facing triggers. 

Coping with triggers for even one psychological illness can be challenging. However, with a dual diagnosis of anxiety and addiction, many people struggle to manage how one can trigger the other. Some of the circumstances they will have to work through during rehab for recovery may incorporate an understanding of the instances below. 

Urges to self medicate

With a dual diagnosis, it is likely that at some point addictive substances were used to find relief of symptoms. For self-medication, involving anxiety and addiction, the reasoning could range from achieving social comfortability or against the inability to fall asleep. By addressing these needs with a specialist during sessions, healthy alternatives can be implemented in place of harmful behaviors. 

Lingering influences of withdrawal from abusing substances

Because of the chemical interaction, an attempt to self-medicate for anxiety using addiction can lead to withdrawal, causing more anxiousness. Thus, leading right back to the urge to get relief by continuing to abuse substances, as opposed to therapeutic alternatives. 

Many holistic treatment options are available within rehabs, such as meditation or sporting activities, to fill in extra time. Opting for proactive activities can alleviate symptoms of anxiety long enough to deter the urge to rely on substance abuse. 

The best feature of holistic treatment is that it includes some very enjoyable pastimes that can be enjoyed after rehab. 

Unavoidable or self-inflicted biological alterations

Addiction can change the chemistry and function of the brain. Anxiety is partially understood to be caused by a misfiring of signals that prompts an inappropriate or unnecessary response. Especially in combination, the manipulation of neurotransmitters, hormones, and receptors, can negatively affect recovery efforts without professional rehab treatment. 

Having a genetic predisposition to a dual diagnosis, of both anxiety and a substance use disorder

An unfortunate fact of the matter is that both anxiety and addiction can be genetic. This can be discovered upon the evaluation of family history. Inheriting specific genes is unavoidable, through certain measures that could be taken. Family therapy is especially helpful in mending relationships that have been broken or damaged by addiction. 

However, being born with the predisposition to a psychological illness or an addiction does not make development inevitable. Those who are aware of addiction within their family should take caution to avoid promoting a substance use disorder. 

Other Triggers of Anxiety and Addiction Disorders

An important understanding to have is that anxiety, in general, isn’t caused by something a person did to provoke it. Aside from the four previously discussed circumstances, other instances that can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder may be: 

  • Additional psychological illnesses or dual diagnosis, other than anxiety and addiction
  • Trauma-related experiences
  • Having been a victim of a violent crime
  • Substance dependence or misuse of medications
  • Side effects of medications or by developing a tolerance that has triggered the onset
  • As a learned reaction after experiencing someone close to them, especially as children

While there are many reasons that anxiety can be triggered, it should help to know that anxiety can be treated. Individual therapy programs at rehab involve working one on one with a therapist to develop effective means to cope. Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety and addiction can provide insight on how to handle triggers that arise. 

Increased Risk of Relapse with Anxiety and Addiction

Those receiving treatment for anxiety and addiction must actively participate in the programs available within drug and alcohol rehab. Studies performed to conclude that around 50% of people that have been diagnosed with anxiety, later sought addiction treatment. 

This suggests that ignoring the need for treatment of an anxiety disorder can lead to misusing and abusing substances. Additionally, relapse rates were seen as high as 85% in those that did not utilize treatment and instead attempted sobriety unassisted.  

Rehab center specialists that treat anxiety and addiction understand how difficult it can be to manage dual diagnosis without preparation. Because of this, importance is placed on developing an effective relapse prevention plan to defend sobriety after rehab. Working with an anxiety and addiction specialist to compile effective coping skills will be essential to maintaining sobriety successfully. 

Receiving Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction

Breaking the cycle of anxiety and substance abuse may not always be easy. However, for those up to the task, it will be worth the positive results. Paying the price of addiction while suffering through anxiety does not have to be your future. 

Contact an anxiety and addiction rehab center today to reserve your place in a treatment facility. One more day does not have to pass by with the agonizing effects of anxiety and addiction. There is relief in knowing that you have found a healthy solution, and it is available to you. So take action to make it happen right now. 

 

Article Reviewed by Gregory Struve

Gregory StruveGreg received a Master’s in Counseling from the Adler Graduate School in 2006. He trained at one of the top trauma and anxiety treatment centers in the world until 2008 when he became a faculty member at Grand Canyon University. From 2011 to 2016 he directed a program that leads the field in terms of innovative treatment of anxiety and trauma. During that time he even made several appearances on A&E’s intervention.