Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Coping with an anxiety disorder can feel hard at times. For many, addiction and mental health problems exist together which creates additional layers of complexity.

Any type of addiction is often linked to an underlying cause. Many times, psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorders are identified as the foundation of this problem. Anxiety disorders and dependence share close ties as they both affect each other.

We’ve put together a detailed view of the relationship between the two, including the best treatment approach to manage both conditions and enable you to regain control of your life.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

“Anxiety disorders” is an umbrella term referring to a group of mental health illnesses characterised by powerful, recurrent feelings of psychological distress, fear and worry about everyday situations — emotions that go on for months. These disorders can include:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Panic Disorder

Unlike normal anxiety — which involves temporary feelings of worry that disappear once the dreadful moment has passed — anxiety disorders are more problematic and persistent. When the symptoms of an anxiety disorder take over, you lack control over them. Any regular activity you engage in can be quickly disrupted with a debilitating sense of excessive foreboding, and stress.

You’re likely to suffer from addiction if you are living with an anxiety disorder. When the two conditions develop either at the same time or sequentially, this co-occurrence is known as a dual diagnosis.

The set of symptoms for both conditions will interact significantly, causing you further functional impairments. Fortunately, with the right level of specialised treatment and professional support, you can overcome both conditions and lead a healthy, peaceful life.

Anxiety Disorders in the UK: Facts and Statistics

Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent psychiatric conditions in the UK. There’s research to back this up — roughly 8 million people suffer from an anxiety disorder.

In addition, evidence shows that some types of anxiety disorders are more widespread than others. For instance, in England alone:

  • 6 in every 100 people have Generalised anxiety disorder
  • 4 in 100 people have post-traumatic stress disorder
  • 2 in 100 people have social phobia
  • 1 in 100 people suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder

Why Are Addiction Rates Higher in Those With Anxiety Disorders?

There are three primary factors influencing these alarming rates among people with untreated anxiety disorders:

Mental Health Co-morbidities

When living with an existing anxiety disorder, your vulnerability to other mental illnesses such as chronic depression is high. These disorders create a vicious cycle of unending anxiety. You’ll eventually develop feelings of hopelessness and sadness as you realise you have no control over the anxiety.

As symptoms of depression kick one, the psychological and emotional discomfort may become overpowering, forcing you to turn to substances and other compulsive behaviours to counteract the overwhelming negative feelings you’re experiencing.

Although these substances and behaviours may provide short-term relief and comfort, they will eventually worsen the disorder’s symptoms. Furthermore, anxiety disorder afflictions can take away your ability to know how much of a substance is too much. You, therefore, risk developing severe substance abuse issues.

Environmental Influences

Exposure to stressful life events (whether big or minor) within the family, in the workplace, or in school can inflame the symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

Without healthy coping skills to deal with these circumstances, drugs or alcohol may seem like the only viable option for you to cope with or disconnect from such external triggers. Since most of these life events are unavoidable, what might follow may be a pattern of substance abuse.

The Brain Reward System

If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s likely that you have an imbalance of naturally occurring neurotransmitters such as dopamine — responsible for inducing feelings of pleasure and preventing fear responses that aren’t appropriate.

As a result of the dopamine deficiency, you may feel inclined to repeatedly use substances to defeat the constant fear and experience pleasurable feelings that you can’t experience naturally. With time, this may spark a dangerous cycle of abuse that’s difficult to overcome without comprehensive treatment.

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Should Those With Anxiety Disorders and Addiction Take Medication?

Anxiety disorder medications such as anti-depressants are highly effective in reducing the severity of symptoms. However, if you also have existing dependence problems, certain medications including benzodiazepines may worsen dependency (see benzodiazepine addiction).

Your dependency can increase in severity if you’re put on benzodiazepines. Since prolonged substance use rewires the brain to respond to drugs and alcohol with euphoria, the brain is likely to react to benzodiazepine medication the same way. In consequence, a medical professional should prescribe a different type of medication if you’re suffering from both an anxiety disorder and dependence issues.

Paradoxically, benzodiazepines are used during the withdrawal phase of addiction rehabilitation. Benzodiazepines can help to reduce severe alcohol withdrawal or benzodiazepine withdrawal. The difference here is that medication is being used primarily to reduce withdrawal symptoms through a process called “tapering”.

Treating Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

If you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder alongside dependency, recovery is still achievable. You’ll need to undergo an integrated dual-diagnosis treatment programme to deal with all facets of each condition.

At Providence Projects, we recognise that your experience with dual diagnosis is unique. That’s why we’ll create for you an individualised, integrated dual diagnosis treatment plan that blends the treatment of both conditions concurrently. Our treatment approach includes:

  • Medication-assisted detox (in case of substance abuse) to reduce severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Medications to reduce the anxiety disorder symptoms and symptoms from other co-occurring mental problems.
  • A combination of different forms of psychotherapy to, among many others, help you overcome other secondary issues driving you to substance abuse and learn healthy ways of coping with the triggers of the disorder’s symptoms
  • Support groups to help you stick to sobriety and overcome unmanageable anxiety disorder symptoms
  • Family therapy to help you rebuild any damaged relationships and find support from family throughout your recovery
  • Holistic activities such as meditation to improve your overall mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing

Our multidisciplinary expert team of therapists, and addiction treatment specialists will work together to boost your recovery journey from addiction and relieve the burden caused by the anxiety disorder.

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