Anxiety Disorders and Addiction: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment
Whether someone abuses their anxiety medications or attempts to self-medicate their symptoms with drugs or alcohol, anxiety disorders and addiction often exist simultaneously. In order for afflicted individuals to begin overcoming their challenges, it’s important to understand the relationship between these two conditions.
It is extremely common for individuals suffering from addiction to also have a co-occurring mental health condition. One of the most common dual-diagnoses along with substance use disorder is anxiety. Anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the United States with over 40 million adults experiencing it in their lifetime. However, even with high rates of anxiety, only a fraction of adults with anxiety disorders seek the help they need. Anxiety exacerbates substance use disorder and vice versa, so it is important to treat both conditions at the same time.
What is Anxiety?
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. It is a normal, healthy response to stressful or dangerous situations. Anxiety disorder occurs when a person feels significantly higher amounts of anxiety or experiences anxiety in response to innocuous situations. It is extremely common for people with anxiety disorders to abuse drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with it. This leads to higher rates of addiction, making substance use disorder a frequent co-occurring condition.
Types of Anxiety
There are many subsets of anxiety disorder and each manifests in different ways. Some types of anxiety are episodic while others may cause constant feelings of unease. Each disorder requires comprehensive treatment.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) manifests as excessive and constant worry over the daily facets of life. Individuals suffering from GAD may feel a foreboding of impending disaster and seem overly concerned about health, finances, work, and relationships. These individuals experience irrational worries that they dismiss as normal and find it difficult to temper their fears.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs after an individual experiences a traumatic event. This can be from combat in the military, a car accident, a natural disaster, sexual or physical abuse, or other tragedies that threaten a person’s emotional or physical security. The condition is most commonly characterized by mood disturbances, flashbacks of the incident, paranoia, and insomnia. People with PTSD have significantly high rates of substance abuse and can benefit from trauma treatment programs.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is one of the most common anxiety disorders in the United States and affects nearly 7 percent of adults. Also known as social phobia, it is characterized by the irrational fear of being judged or rejected in a social or performative setting. People with SAD will avoid social situations and in instances where they cannot avoid them, they experience high levels of anxiety and dread.
The most common hallmark of panic disorder is overwhelming episodes of unrelenting terror known as panic attacks. Panic attacks often seem to occur unprompted. People with panic disorder experience feelings of imminent death or doom. It is commonly accompanied by physical symptoms such as:
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
- Changes in sensation (paresthesias)
Specific phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder. Over 19 million Americans are affected by phobias. People with specific phobias experience irrational, overwhelming fear in relation to specific objects, situations, or places. They will go to great lengths to avoid these things even while knowing they pose no actual threat.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Although all of the anxiety disorders manifest in different ways, they have the same symptoms in common. The main signs of an anxiety disorder include:
- Irrational fears (general or specific) that occur frequently and for extended periods of time.
- A decline in the quality of life including strained relationships, poor work performance, and the inability to enjoy social activities.
- Higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse as a means to cope with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety also causes numerous physical symptoms leading to serious discomfort. The most common of them are:
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Chest pain
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Abdominal discomfort
- Numbness or tingling
Co-Occurring Anxiety Disorders and Addiction
Anxiety disorders and addiction often go hand in hand. The two conditions fuel one another. Individuals with an anxiety disorder commonly turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to dampen the symptoms eventually leading to addiction. The most common substances abused among those with anxiety disorders are:
- Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax)
- Stimulants (Cocaine, Methamphetamines)
As the addiction progresses, people begin to feel significantly higher levels of anxiety leading to an increase in the frequency and the amount of drug and alcohol use. This creates a vicious cycle of anxiety and substance abuse. There is also a higher risk of relapse among those with addiction and co-occurring anxiety disorders. The closely linked relationship between anxiety and substance use disorder makes it critical to manage both conditions for a successful recovery.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders and Drug or Alcohol Addiction
Comprehensive Wellness Center in beautiful South Florida is a dual-diagnosis center equipped to treat addiction and co-occurring disorders. Our staff works closely with you to develop a multifaceted treatment plan that manages anxiety and treats drug and alcohol abuse. This includes therapy with licensed counselors at our inpatient treatment facility. With our help, you can recover from addiction and anxiety and regain control of your life.
Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs for anxiety disorder and addiction.
Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.