Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, & Counselling

Learn more about how anxiety disorders affect your addictions and how we help your heal.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions and can have serious implications for our physical, social, and emotional well-being. Anxiety is not only a mental health issue, but can also lead to substance use disorders when self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to cope is often regarded as a reliable coping strategy by those suffering from mental health issues, but in fact, is only harming your treatment. Withdrawal symptoms from substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines can make anxiety even worse, leading to a dual diagnosis of both substance use and anxiety disorders.

If you are suffering from a mental health condition related to anxiety and are simultaneously using other, non-prescribed substances, our team of dual diagnosis specialists can help you kick the harmful habit and assist in improving your anxiety therapy programme. Before we discuss any counselling, however, we need to define how anxiety and addiction are related and screen for the presence of dual diagnosis.

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Are You at Risk of Anxiety Disorders?

When looking for therapy for an anxiety-driven addictive disorder, it is important to be aware of the different types of worry and mental health conditions that might affect your substance misuse. While you have already gone through this with your psychiatrist while being diagnosed with your condition, the following section is still an important resource for your loved ones as it can help them understand your situation better.

Anxiety can be classified into several different types, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The causes of anxiety disorders can vary, ranging from underlying medical conditions to environmental stressors. Genetics also play a role in determining who is at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Additionally, traumatic life events or a history of abuse can contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder.

What Are Phobias?

Phobias are intense and persistent fears that are often irrational and disproportionate to the actual threat posed. Common phobias include:


  • Fear of flying

  • Heights

  • Animals

  • Water

  • Closed-in spaces

  • Public speaking

These extreme and excessive fears can cause significant stress and disruption to everyday activities. If you have a phobia, you may feel overwhelmed by your fear and avoid the situations or triggers associated with it as much as possible. This can negatively affect your professional capabilities, and social environment, impact your regular health checks and more.

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What Is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

Separation anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder that typically manifests in children between the ages of 6 and 12. It is characterised by fear of being separated from significant people in their lives, such as parents or guardians. However, this condition can also be present in adults with persistent and excessive fear when they are away from home or if they are separated from their family or partners. This can lead to physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, irritability, sleep disturbances, sweating, trembling and difficulty concentrating.

In addition to the physical symptoms, if you have a separation anxiety disorder, you may refuse to go to school or be involved in social activities. You may have difficulty sleeping away from home and even have nightmares related to being away from your loved ones.

Separation anxiety disorder can also relate to objects, pets or ideas. For example, people who are branded ‘workaholics’ might suffer from separation anxiety when it comes to their work duties and responsibilities.

The Reality of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that can have a significant and lasting impact. This disorder is characterised by intense fear or distress in situations where you may feel like you are being judged or evaluated, such as during presentations, meeting new people or attending social gatherings. The fear of being seen negatively by others often leads to avoidance of these activities and can significantly limit your ability to interact with others and maintain meaningful relationships.

If you are suffering from social anxiety disorder may experience physical effects such as trembling, sweating, blushing, nausea, dizziness and increased heart rate when faced with social interaction. These symptoms can be so severe that they have a significant impact on your ability to function and participate in everyday life.

Other Anxiety Disorders

Most types of anxiety disorders can affect your ongoing recovery or cause dual diagnosis if you are self-medicating. These include agoraphobia, selective mutism, health anxiety disorder and some OCDs.

  • Agoraphobia is an intense fear of open or public spaces. People with this disorder may feel like they cannot escape quickly enough if something happens. Symptoms of agoraphobia include increased heart rate, sweating and dizziness in certain situations.
  • Selective mutism is a form of extreme shyness where an individual will not speak in certain specific situations, even though they may be able to talk normally in other settings. The individual affected by this disorder may have difficulty communicating or participating in social activities due to the fear of being judged or seen negatively.
  • Health anxiety disorder is a type of OCD that causes extreme worry and fears over your health, usually related to physical illnesses such as cancer or heart conditions. This can lead to compulsive behaviour such as checking for signs and symptoms more than once, seeking reassurance from medical professionals, and avoiding places where people may be sick.
  • Finally, some OCDs (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) can also cross over into anxiety disorders if they involve intense fear and worrying thoughts. Examples of this include contamination obsessions or checking rituals.

Not all anxiety disorder diagnoses will exhibit the same symptoms, so being correctly diagnosed before looking for counselling is key to finding the right support. For example, if you experience panic attacks, it can have adverse effects on your recovery from addiction as such events, produced by mental health disorders, can become triggers for relapse. If you are experiencing a panic attack, make sure to use your learnt management techniques or call 999 for urgent medical assistance if it is a severe panic attack episode.

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Risk Factors for Abusing Anxiety Medication and Self-Medicating

Certain risk factors can make you more vulnerable to abusing anxiety medication such as genetic and environmental factors, but not only. For example, if you have a history of substance abuse, depression, or bipolar disorder, you may be at higher risk of developing an addiction if you don’t take your prescription correctly and in the doses prescribed by your doctor. Additionally, if you are under a lot of stress or lack a strong support system, this is not a reason to turn to alcohol or other substances as a way to cope.

There are also genetic predispositions which can affect your ability to cope, as well as psychological trauma, PTSD and other anxiety symptoms.

Medical Causes for Generalised Anxiety Disorder

This disorder can be caused by a range of factors including genetic predisposition, environmental influences or life events. While the exact cause of GAD is unknown, research has suggested that imbalances in brain chemicals such as serotonin may be involved. Here are the main medical and psychiatrical causes for developing GAD:

  • Differences in brain chemistry and function
  • Differences in the way threats are perceived
  • Developmental and Personality Disorders
  • Genetics

What Are the Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder?

Regardless if you are suffering from an occasional anxiety disorder or your anxiety disorder is chronic, there are some tell-tale symptoms which you may have noticed within yourself or a loved one. Oftentimes, people would look into alcohol or other ways to self-medicate without contacting a medical specialist, leading to co-occurring addictions


  • Panic attacks

  • Mild to severe paranoid symptoms

  • Intense fear

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Self-consciousness

  • Anxious thoughts

  • Extreme fear

  • Social phobia

  • Overwhelming worry

  • Intense anxiety

Self-medicating for anxiety is dangerous as it will affect not only how your brain and body are reacting to ongoing treatments but also can influence your results in screenings and medical examinations. Anxiety disorder symptoms are very difficult to pinpoint as masking and social pressure have taught us how to hide and ignore them, leading to many late diagnoses.

Hence, we urge you to trust your body and seek a professional as soon as you notice any of these.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety-inclusive Dual Diagnosis

If you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder, it is important to be aware of the physical symptoms that may be associated with it. These can include rapid heart rate and breathing, sweating, trembling, fatigue, insomnia, headaches and digestive issues such as nausea. Such symptoms are often caused by a combination of underlying medical conditions and psychological factors.

When anxiety is a part of a dual diagnosis alongside another mental health disorder such as depression or substance use disorder, it can be difficult to diagnose because the physical signs may overlap and make it harder to recognise one from the other. That being said, it is important to seek professional help if you experience any persistent physical anxiety symptoms that you think may be related to anxiety or another mental health disorder.

Psychological Symptoms of Addiction and Anxiety

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 43 per cent of people with substance use disorder in treatment for nonmedical use of prescription painkillers suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders, specifically anxiety and depression.

The psychological symptoms of anxiety and addiction are often intertwined and can be difficult to distinguish. Both can cause feelings of unease, fear, worry and low self-esteem. Anxiety can trigger an increase in worries and intrusive thoughts, while addiction may cause an increased craving for the substance being abused. People with anxiety may also experience difficulty focusing or concentrating, as well as sleep disturbances. Additionally, individuals may feel overwhelmed or like they’re constantly spinning their wheels but not getting anything done. These anxiety symptoms can lead to avoidance of situations that could potentially cause further stress or discomfort.

If you are struggling with both anxiety and substance use disorders, it is important to seek help from a professional such as a doctor or therapist who specialises in treating both conditions. We have several dual diagnosis specialists working with CATCH Recovery and are ready to start treating you.

How Do We Treat Co-Occurring Anxiety Disorders and Addiction?

Treatments for anxiety disorders involve both psychological and pharmacological interventions. Psychotherapy approaches often used for treating anxiety include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Medications used to treat anxiety include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines.

In addition to these, lifestyle changes can also play a role in managing anxiety. Exercise, meditation, and stress management techniques may help reduce levels of anxiety. If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder and find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol for relief, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible to prevent the development of a dual diagnosis.

Therapies for Anxiety and Addiction

Therapies for anxiety and addiction can come in many forms, but some of the most effective therapies include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), group therapy, individual therapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy. All of these therapies have been clinically proven to help in managing both substance use disorders and anxiety.

Our holistic therapeutic plan focuses on finding the best ways to relieve symptoms of anxiety but also find better-coping mechanisms for handling moments when you feel anxious and eliminate the danger of a panic attack. If you are already being treated with anti-anxiety medications, we will help you schedule your day better and improve your overall ability to handle any traumatic event, discover new coping strategies, manage stress and find the best methods for controlling specific phobias.

We can achieve this through behavioural inhibition, picking the right counselling options, and assisting you in finding working herbal remedies.

By finding what does trigger anxiety in your everyday life and through our mental health specialist-chosen therapies, we can treat anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions through:


  • Talk therapy

  • Stress management therapies

  • Exposure therapy

  • Learning how to manage symptoms through behavioural therapies

We Can Help You Recover

If you are looking for help, CATCH Recovery’s counsellors are here for you. We have over 40 years of experience helping people with addictions and co-occurring disorders and can help you too. Reach out to our team for a free screening.

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