The Link Between Substance Addiction and Anxiety
The relationship between substance addiction and anxiety is concerning. Both substance addiction, including alcohol and drugs, and anxiety disorders are disease processes that affect human behavior.
In fact, alcohol and drug addiction force a chemical change within the human body that rewards the abusive behavior. Therefore, abuse of alcohol and drugs is viewed as a chronic disease of the brain, since it changes the structure of the brain. However, anxiety is viewed as a mental illness, since it affects the person’s moods, feelings, emotions, and behavior. Anxiety is the leading mental illness in the United States, with 18% of adults in the United States experiencing from some level of anxiety.
Which Came First: The Chicken (Anxiety) or The Egg (Addiction)?
Substance addiction and anxiety commonly feed off each other with substance addiction leading to anxiety, and vice versa. Neurological changes from substance addiction can create anxiety within a person, while an anxious person will often self-medicate to calm himself or herself down in a pattern that leads to substance abuse.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people with anxiety are twice as likely to abuse substances than the general population. Additionally, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “About 20% of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20% of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder.”
What’s behind this connection? Why do anxiety and addiction so often go hand in hand? There are a few key reasons:
- Anxiety can lead to substance addiction: Anxiety can be a major motivator for self-medication with alcohol or drugs. People with anxiety disorders often feel an intense need to calm their nerves, and they may find that drugs or alcohol provide an immediate sense of relief.
- Substance addiction can cause anxiety: The neurological changes caused by substance addiction can lead to anxiety disorders. Drug and alcohol abuse can also cause other mental health problems, such as depression, which can in turn lead to anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms
To overcome any disease process the signs and symptoms must be recognized. Signs and symptoms of substance addiction varies greatly depending on the substance in question, but can commonly lead to:
- Decreased interest in friends, family, and extracurricular activities
- Erratic behavior
- Inability to control drinking or substance use
- Unwillingness to discuss choices
- Slurred speech
- Mental fogginess
- Impaired judgment
- Violent behavior
There are seven common forms of anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Each disorder has its own triggers, but overall symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating or clamminess
- Rapid pulse
- Chest pain
- Choking sensations
- Muscle tension (locked-jaw or neck)
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty concentrating
Forming Habits that Last a Lifetime
While different drugs work in distinct ways, all drugs commonly activate the brain’s reward system via the dopamine system. This allows behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and abusing substances to be rewarded every time they take place, slowly changing the behavior into a habit.
There are a few different ways to break these habits, but all of them require commitment and effort. The first step is identifying the habit and recognizing when and how it is triggered. Once you’ve identified the habit, you can begin to change your behavior by replacing the old routine with a new one. This might mean breaking the habit into smaller steps, setting a goal to only do the habit for a set amount of time, or finding a different activity to replace the old habit.
Forming lasting habits that don’t involve drugs can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that it’s possible. By focusing on building healthy behaviors and avoiding risky situations, you can eventually rewire your brain to form new, healthy habits.
Treatment Options for those Facing Addiction and Anxiety
Treating only one of the two disorders will not eliminate the other. Therefore, treatments for people with both anxiety and substance addiction must be well rounded and focus on the person as a whole to be successful.
Depending on the person’s comfort, recovery options include talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focused on changing the person’s thinking and habits, motivational enhancement therapy, family therapy (especially for youth), group meetings (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), prescription medication, and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture. Commonly, more than one type of remedy will be necessary, especially at first, to help change the user’s daily habits. Support is a major factor in the abuser’s ability to rehabilitate effectively.
Understanding the triggers that can commonly cause relapse help raise awareness towards possibilities and can sometimes lesson relapse if responded to earl enough. A common trigger is stress, which can be addressed via cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
By realizing that there are multiple treatments options for stress, such as mindfulness meditation, exercise, yoga, acupuncture, medication, and massage therapy, a person can find the tools that work for them. Since anxiety and substance addiction feed off of each other, it is even more important to understand that a situation that puts a strain on one disorder will ultimately mean straining the other.
You Can Beat Your Anxiety and Addiction
The most important factor in recovery is getting the help you need and surrounding yourself with resources to overcome your disorders. Even if you relapse, you must understand that that is not a failure, but a step within your recovery.
When ready to face your anxiety and substance addiction, reach out to us today at 208.486.0130 and let us help you.