Experiencing a mild amount of anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to stressful situations. A new study released by the Journal of Individual Differences noted that a small amount of anxiety could even give people the motivation to excel at their tasks.
Unfortunately, for the 40 million American adults that suffer from an anxiety disorder, their reaction to stress or fear is often so paralyzing that it begins to interfere with their job, relationships and other every-day responsibilities.
To calm the crippling side effects of anxiety, those suffering with it often turn to alcohol or drugs in order to self-medicate and find relief. However, what starts as a simple solution can quickly slip into dependency, and that dependency can slip into addiction. Gradually, those self-medicating will become trapped in their own solution.
Self-medicating for an anxiety disorder using substances will create a vicious cycle of dependency and addiction that is not easily broken.
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Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Most people experience a normal amount of anxiety in their life during stressful events. Things such as taking a big exam, public speaking or turning in a big project at work are allowed to produce some feelings of anxiety. In other words, it is considered perfectly normal to experience a healthy dose of worry or dread during these events as long as these feelings go away once the event is over.
However, for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, the feelings of dread rarely go away and tend to get worse over time. Those suffering from the effects of an anxiety disorder are unable to stop their emotions from disrupting their life. Professional, familial, social or academic obligations will often be overshadowed by the sense of foreboding that comes as part of this affliction.
Due to this, those who suffer from anxiety disorders often struggle with maintaining relationships, performing well at work, sleeping and coping with small inconveniences.
As these struggles continue to persist, they will only cause more anxiety and stress. Some different types of anxiety disorders include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: Nightmares or flashbacks that typically develop after an individual experiences a traumatic event.
- Phobias: A debilitating fear of a specific object or event.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: A series of compulsive behaviors driven by unreasonable fears or obsessions.
- Panic disorder: A recurring instance of overwhelming and uncontrollable panic.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: A continuous and overwhelming sense of dread for no specific reason that won’t go away.
- Social anxiety disorder: An unmanageable fear of interacting with others.
Anxiety is a broad term that covers a wide variety of symptoms and conditions that will all need to be treated specifically for the best chance at long-term recovery.
Self-Medicating Anxiety With Substances
While around 18 percent of the American adult population is suffering from an anxiety disorder, less than half of them will seek treatment for it. Those that do not seek professional help for anxiety will often turn to a substance, like drugs or alcohol, as a means to cope with the debilitating symptoms of an anxiety or panic disorder, including:
- Inability to relax
- Consistent fear
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
If one drink or one pill can make the crippling side effects of anxiety disappear, they can often seem like the most simplistic and effective form of treatment. However, using substances as a means to cope with anxiety is one of the most distinctive signs of substance abuse or addiction. While this might seem obvious to those of sound mind, individuals suffering from a mental health disorder cannot always see how misguided and dangerous this way of thinking can be.
The longer someone continues abusing drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, the deeper the cycle of dependency will become. As the cycle perpetuates and substances become the “go-to” for getting through difficult moments, the brain and body will begin to rely solely on drugs or alcohol to manage day to day life. Eventually, using a substance to cope will begin to create its own set of anxiety-inducing side effects that will perpetuate this vicious sequence of events.
Unfortunately, those with an anxiety disorder are two to three times more likely than the general population to have a substance abuse disorder according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Due to this, it’s important that those struggling with one or more symptoms of an anxiety disorder seek professional treatment for this disease before they turn to self-medicating.
When someone is suffering from a mental illness, such as anxiety, along with a substance abuse problem, it is known as a co-occurring disorder. While a co-occurring disorder is treatable, the nuances of treating two separate conditions can be difficult and timely.
Treating A Co-Occurring Disorder: Addiction And Anxiety
When addiction and anxiety begin working simultaneously, the two conditions will feed off each other and create a destructive cycle.
The good news is, both addiction and anxiety are completely treatable diseases.
In severe cases of anxiety and addiction, those suffering from this co-occurring disorder should seek out a dual diagnosis inpatient treatment facility. Here, patients will receive a unique blend of treatment options that will work together to address the root of the anxiety and addiction. Treatment will consist of several different modalities that could include behavioral therapies, medication to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, support meetings and more.
The most important thing to remember when treating a co-occurring disorder is that the cycle must be broken, and this starts by identifying the root cause of the addiction or anxiety. Once the underlying trigger has been identified, it can be treated in order to break the negative behavioral patterns of substance use.
Additionally, treatment professionals will be able to teach clients healthy coping techniques to deal with their anxieties in place of alcohol or drugs.
There is no cure for conditions such as anxiety or addiction, but with the right tools and support systems, those suffering from both can live a fulfilling life in recovery.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a co-occurring disorder, such as anxiety and addiction, call a treatment specialist today at 888-512-3326.