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The Connection between Anxiety and Addiction

Almost every individual, at some point in their life, has experienced anxiety. That feeling of worry when facing a problem at work, before taking an exam, or making an important life decision. These constant feelings of worry, fear, and nervousness are overwhelming, disabling, and forceful. Anxiety can easily grow into a disorder, and appear in various forms such as phobia, panic attack, and social anxiety. These disorders manifest themselves through excessive worries, trouble sleeping, irrational fears, chronic indigestion, and self-consciousness. But how can you tell if the everyday anxiety has crossed the line and grown into something that is life-threatening? Read more to discover the connection between anxiety and addiction.

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How Does Anxiety Lead Into Addiction?

Jamie is 25 years old. He has struggled with various health issues like stress and anxiety that consumed every part of him. He tried many different things as a way to cope, like prescription medications, meditation, yoga, psychological therapy, but still couldn’t find a way to beat his anxiety. One day, he tried alcohol and drugs. Suddenly, he felt relieved and his anxiety faded away. He was able to think clear, communicate with people, do his day-to-day tasks, and not worry. However, to his misfortune, the feelings of relief were only temporary and he had to drink more and more, and use more and more drugs, in order to sustain those feelings. It worked. He became an addict.

This temporary relief from anxiety is exactly what drives individuals to use drugs and alcohol. By using drugs or alcohol every time they wish to escape anxiety, their brains quickly associate the use of substances with feeling better. These substances soon begin to alter the brain’s functioning. The chemical substances influence neurotransmitters that are responsible for the sensations of reward and pleasure. These neurotransmitters are made to artificially flood the brain, creating an intense burst of euphoria that immediately hooks the individual. 

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The Cycle

The feeling of euphoria created by the use of substances seems like the opposite of feeling anxious, scared, and stressed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. The body soon breaks down the drugs and the brain reabsorbs the dopamine. Consequently, the person takes another hit just to relive that blissful feeling of euphoria. This cycle of anxiety and addiction is a process that only deepens both the anxiety disorder and the addiction.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America quotes a doctor saying that: Social anxiety disorder frequently travels in the company of alcohol or drug abuse, as people with social anxiety disorder might try to make use of alcohol or cocaine’s reputation as a social lubricant.

Over time, the individual who’s using alcohol and drugs will come to notice that they need to use more just to experience that same level of euphoria, since addiction leads to substance tolerance. The body and brain become accustomed to the amount of substance one takes, and the cycle continues until the substance abuse reaches dangerous levels. Finally, a new form of anxiety emerges, the fear of withdrawal.

The thought of withdrawal can be one of the scariest things that an addict has to endure. The main question is, why are addicts so scared of withdrawal? Well, when the body recovers from withdrawal, which can last for a few days to a week or more, the person might experience many physical symptoms like:

  • Muscle pain
  • Spasms
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Tremor
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

A person can also experience many emotional symptoms as well, including:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Social isolation

Moreover, alcohol can produce the most dangerous withdrawal that can lead to seizures, strokes, or heart attack.

Helping a Person with Anxiety and Drug Addiction

Caring for someone suffering from anxiety and addiction can be very stressful. Before you talk to your loved one about treatment options, you need to approach them about the drug problem. Try not to confront them or cause an argument. Those who are abusing drugs tend to get angry easily, so handle the situation with care. Just remember that there is a variety of treatment centers available, as well as many therapeutic approaches. Some actions you can take are:

  • Do your own research on the connection between anxiety and addiction. Read upon the substance that you believe your loved one is using. The more you know about the cause of the anxiety and addiction, their characteristics and traits, the more confident you can be in a conversation about their specific situation.
  • If you want to have an honest look at the struggles and successes of alcoholics and addicts, start attending Open Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings. It can be a profound and mind-altering experience, and it might give you hope knowing that someone else has been able to successfully recover from addiction.
  • Apart from AA, you can also try attending Al-Anon meetings. These meetings are for the close friends and families of the addict. Here, you can listen to what others have to say and you are free to ask questions or talk about your problem.
  • Consider obtaining the help of a professional addiction counselor. By seeking counseling, you may avoid pain you don’t have to go through. These professional counselors will offer guidance and compassion, as well as give you tools to handle the troubles of life.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse Need to be Addressed Together

The treatment for anxiety and addiction is referred to as dual-diagnosis. Dual-diagnosis disorder is a term for when a person experiences a mental illness and a substance abuse problem at the same time. Studies show that roughly about a third of all people who experience mental illness also experience substance abuse. The most common treatments for dual-diagnosis include:

  • Detoxification – the process of removing all toxins from one’s body, until the bloodstream is clean. During detox, a trained staff monitors the patient for up to 7 days. The person might receive small amount of the substance or its medical alternative in order to lessen the side-effects of withdrawal.
  • Medication – medication for dual-diagnosis helps lessen symptoms and stabilize the addict’s mood. It usually takes 4-6 weeks for the medication to be fully active within the body. There are several types of medication including antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, beta blockers, hypnotics, and sleep aids.
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation – most of the times, addicts can greatly benefit from inpatient rehab centers where they can receive round-the-clock medical and mental health care. These treatment centers will provide support, therapy, medication, and health services in order to help the patient fully recover. The most effective evidence-based therapies include Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Dialectical behavior therapy, Intensive care management, and trauma resolution therapies. Sometimes, treatment might involve holistic therapy which includes alternative modalities like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, massage, and other.
  • Support Groups – support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, and Double Trouble in Recovery allow members to share experiences, frustrations, successes, tips of what works better, referrals to specialists, and more. Members can also form long-term friendships and get encouragement to stay clean.


 Best Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Centers in the U.S

  1. Reflections Rehab
  2. Beachway Therapy Center
  3. Sierra Tucson
  4. Michael’s House
  5. La Paloma

For more information please call our Addiction Treatment Helpline at (844) 439-4765. This is a Free and completely confidential call. We are available 24/7. In many cases, your health insurance company will cover 100% of the treatment cost. So please call now.

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