Anxiety & Addiction

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The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

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Many people who suffer from high levels of anxiety begin using substances such as drugs and alcohol to cope with the feeling. This becomes a dangerous game whereby anxiety levels may increase for an individual if the substance is not used and therefore can create physical dependence and addiction.

There are a variety of treatment options for those who are suffering from anxiety and addiction. If you’re unsure about where to start and how to access treatment, please contact our admissions team who can better make the appropriate treatment recommendations for you or your loved one.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a common emotion and is your body’s reaction to danger, stress or uncertainty. While many view anxiety as a negative emotion, it’s actually very healthy under the right circumstances, as it helps you prepare for unfamiliar situations. However, while many people experience regular levels of anxiety from time to time, for many others, this isn’t the case.

Those suffering from an anxiety disorder are often completely overwhelmed by these feelings, with some people describing the problem as “debilitating”.  Anxiety isn’t the same as everyday worries and concerns. It can affect your ability to socialise, sleep or go about your normal daily activities. Once an anxiety disorder reaches a stage that feels uncontrollable, you may start to experience some of the serious physical and psychological effects that manifest as a result.

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What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Some of the main psychological symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Irrational fears that you’re unable to control 
  • Overwhelming feelings of panic for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty focusing 
  • Poor work/school performance 
  • Failed relationships
  • Substance misuse, self-medication in the form of drugs, alcohol or other problematic behaviours 

These psychological symptoms of anxiety can also produce many different physical side effects, which include:

  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tight chest
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Muscle tension
  • Tremors 
  • Inability to remain calm
  • Stomach pain 
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Clammy/numb hands and feet

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How Does an Anxiety Disorder Develop?

Many see anxiety as a weakness of character, when in fact, it can manifest for a number of different reasons, and there is very rarely a single cause.

Anxiety disorders develop from the contribution of several factors including:

  • History of anxiety or other mental illness within the family
  • Trauma; such as sexual, physical or psychological abuse
  • Substance abuse: changes in brain chemistry can occur as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. Substances and behaviours can trigger anxiety
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain can be caused by taking certain medications
  • Long-lasting stress: such as executive burnout
  • Co-occurring psychiatric disorders such as depression can mean you are more likely to suffer from an anxiety 

If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s important that you identify your triggers. Understanding how these triggers can affect you will allow you to develop the healthy coping strategies necessary to deal with them in future.

Anxiety and addiction

What Is the Relationship Between Anxiety & Addiction?

Anxiety can be debilitating for some people, with many seeking immediate relief in order to cope. Addiction and anxiety go hand in hand because someone suffering from an anxiety disorder is more likely to self-medicate using drugs, alcohol or other compulsive behaviour. However, it soon becomes a vicious cycle. Substance abuse only exacerbates anxiety, which causes the person to consume more as a way of numbing these feelings. This eventually leads to tolerance and physical dependence before becoming a full-blown addiction.

There has been extensive research done into alcohol abuse and its impact on mental health. Many studies have confirmed that people who drink heavily and consistently are more likely to suffer from short-term anxiety. These types of drinking habits can also rewire your brain to make you less able to cope with stress in the future.

Many people mistakenly believe that to experience alcohol-induced anxiety, you must already be suffering from some form of anxiety disorder already. However, this is not the case. Abusing alcohol is enough to cause the development of a clinical anxiety disorder among those who had not previously suffered from such issues. 

For those who already have an anxiety or panic disorder, alcohol can exacerbate existing symptoms and, in many cases, can become an unhealthy way of dealing with anxiety. This is mainly due to the sedative effect produced by alcohol. This is an example of self-medicating in order to seek relief from nerves, fear and anxiety.

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Anxiety & Addiction: Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, describes the diagnosis of a disorder such as alcoholism, drug addiction or behavioural addiction, together with a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression

Medical professionals can perform dual diagnoses, recognizing a mental disorder and a substance use disorder at the same time. The process involves several medical exams.

Common factors that can lead to a dual diagnosis

Self-medicating: Turning to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the symptoms of your anxiety and later developing an addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms or side effects of medication: The effects of certain drugs can include anxiety, agitation and paranoia. Similarly, some of the most common symptoms of substance withdrawal include anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.

Biochemical factors: Both addiction and anxiety disorders are caused by chemical imbalances within the brain. For example, low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin have been linked with both alcoholism and mental illness.

Genetic predisposition: There is evidence that you may be more prone to developing anxiety or experiencing addiction if there is a family history of both conditions.

How Is a Dual Diagnosis Diagnosed?

Doctors begin with a physical exam. This determines if any physical symptoms may be causing anxiety or dependence on substances. This also helps with later treatments, as a person may need physical therapy or surgery to fix chronic pain.

Doctors conduct blood and urine tests if they notice underlying health problems. This gives them more information to determine a treatment plan.

A psychological assessment lies at the core of dual diagnosis. A psychiatrist asks a person questions.

These questions are personal, but they can get to the roots of anxiety and addiction. A psychiatrist can use their assessment to determine what anxiety disorder a person has. They can then use answers to craft a treatment plan specific to the individual.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, while also experiencing anxiety symptoms, specialised dual-diagnosis treatment is likely to be recommended. Be sure to speak to a trained professional who can give you more information on treatment options that address co-occurring illnesses such as anxiety and addiction.

Anxiety and addiction go hand-in-hand, with one almost always causing or exacerbating the effects of the other. As both disorders involve chemical processes taking place within the brain, there are various therapy types that work well for treating them. Mindfulness, CBT and other talking therapies have been proven to effectively help manage symptoms of anxiety, as well as cravings for drugs and alcohol. If you’ve chosen to undergo treatment in a residential rehab clinic, you can expect to receive a personalised treatment plan.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Catch Recovery

A dual diagnosis requires specific treatment in order to target the addiction in addition to the anxiety disorder. At CATCH, our specialist addiction therapists have many years of experience treating patients with co-occurring disorders such as anxiety.

If you’re suffering, or know someone who is, get in touch with our admissions team to arrange a free addiction assessment. We offer treatment on both an inpatient and outpatient basis, depending on the severity of your addiction and anxiety disorder.

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