Anxiety & Addiction
How One Alcoholic Confronted Her Anxiety

I will never forget the first time that I had a panic attack. I had been on a bender, drinking non-stop for at least five days. My life was starting to feel completely unmanageable, though I didn’t know what that meant at the time. Towards the end of this particular bender I decided to pack my car full of my most important personal belongings (none of which I still have) and drive about five hours away to a small mountain town where nobody knew me. Starting over sounded like a great idea. Of course, at the time, I had no idea that you couldn’t run away from yourself. I had already burnt all of the pre-existing bridges in my life, and I woke up every morning feeling like there was essentially nothing left to live for. It was a pretty dark period of time.

A Second Chance

I made it about two hours away from where I was currently living before I had completely totaled my car; I was forced to pull over at a random McDonald’s on the side of the road. I could have easily died that night, but instead I wound up at some cheap hotel in a town I had never previously visited. I called my mom from the hotel phone the next morning, and she, in turn, called the police. The police picked me up, and rather than citing me for drunk driving (a blessing that I certainly didn’t recognize at the time) they took me directly to a psychiatric ward where I stayed for the next three days. As soon as I got to the psychiatric ward and started to sober up a little bit, I realized that my entire life was about to change. In that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety — a horrible, crushing feeling that I had never felt before. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to take a drink.

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Addiction & Anxiety

What I didn’t realize was that I had been self-medicating my anxiety for quite some time. Whenever I started to feel emotionally uncomfortable, I reached for a shot of tequila or a glass of wine. I had no idea how to effectively manage my emotions on my own, and I certainly had no idea how to stay sober for long enough to attempt to. As it turns out, many men and women who struggle with anxiety turn to drugs and alcohol is a means of self-medication.

According to an article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, decades of psychiatric research have shown that substance abuse disorders and anxiety disorders often go hand in hand. According to the article, “Anxiety and substance use disorders are among the most frequent psychiatric problems in the United States, with lifetime rates of 28.8% and 14.6%, respectively. The presence of an anxiety or substance use disorder is also a risk factor for the presence of the other disorder, as shown in both epidemiological and clinical samples.”

The study found that men and women who struggled with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder or agoraphobia (social anxiety) had the highest rates of substance abuse and dependence.

The three main ways in which anxiety disorders & substance use disorders co-occur:

  1. An anxiety disorder leads to self-medication, which in turn leads to a substance use disorder
  2. Long-term chemical substance use leads to the development of an anxiety disorder due to neurological changes
  3. A third variable is present, such as genetic disposition for addiction or a predisposition to developing an anxiety disorder

Immersion Recovery Center effectively tackles all of these potential pathways of comorbidity. We offer a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program for individuals who have been struggling with a substance abuse disorder and an anxiety disorder simultaneously.

About Anxiety & Addiction

If you struggle from addiction and anxiety, you are certainly not alone. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. and affect roughly 40 million men and women over the age of 18 on an annual basis. This equates to 18.1 percent of the total population. While anxiety disorders can easily be treated with a combination of therapy and medication, only 36.9 percent of individuals struggling with an anxiety disorder of any severity seek professional treatment. Unfortunately, many turn to self-medication, which only exacerbates the issue. In fact, people who struggle with anxiety are between two and three times more likely to struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction.

Turning to chemical substances when you are experiencing high levels of anxiety might seem like a good idea. At first, self-medication might even lead to a temporary alleviation of your symptoms. However, in the long-term, relying on drugs and alcohol will only exacerbate the problem and make the symptoms of your anxiety disorder worse over time.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with addiction and anxiety, it is important that dual diagnosis treatment is sought. Depending on the severity of the substance abuse disorder and the severity of the underlying anxiety disorder, treatment options vary significantly. In some cases, residential inpatient treatment is necessary. In other cases, an intensive outpatient program or partial hospitalization program can be an effective treatment option. Contact Immersion Recovery Center today to learn more about which treatment option is the best fit for you or your loved one.

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Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options

If a person is struggling with substance abuse and a mental illness like an anxiety disorder, he or she will need to enter into a dual diagnosis treatment program. Up until recently, addiction issues and mental illnesses were treated in separate facilities. However, it was discovered that since the two disorders are closely connected, in order for recovery from one issue to be effective, both issues need to be treated at the same time. Otherwise, the symptoms associated with one of the issues was bound to lead to relapse.

For example, say a person gets sober in a residential rehab, but has an underlying anxiety issue that is not being adequately addressed. Once this person transitions back into fully independent living, they begin experiencing panic attacks. They do not know how to work through panic attacks in a healthy and productive way. Therefore, they do what they have always done. They reach for drugs or alcohol.

On the other side, say a person is treated for severe anxiety in a psychiatric ward. They are given medication to help with the anxiety disorder, and the medication is effective. They begin to feel much better, and are finally able to meet all personal obligations and live through an entire day without any crippling nervousness. However, she also drinks excessively on occasion — a problem that was not addressed in the psychiatric ward. The next time she has a binge drinking episode she forgets to take her medication, and the anxiety comes back (which in turn leads to more excessive drinking and more missed medication).

Anxiety and addiction are closely intertwined. In order for long-term recovery to be achieved, all underlying issues must be thoroughly addressed simultaneously and adequately treated.

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If you or someone you love has been struggling with a substance abuse disorder and anxiety disorder, Immersion Recovery Center is available to help. Our comprehensive program of dual diagnosis recovery focuses on delivering a variety of effective treatment options that tackle addiction and mental illnesses simultaneously. We combine intensive behavioral therapy with psychiatric care and holistic treatment options, focusing on an integrated program of care that leaves no stone unturned. To learn more about our addiction recovery program or to get started on your own personal journey of dual diagnosis recovery, contact us today.

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Reviewed for accuracy by :

Serving as the Inpatient Clinical Director at Immersion Recovery Center, Susan will work directly with staff members, clients, and family members to ensure the clinical program remains as effective and individualized as possible. Susan is no stranger to the fields of behavioral health and addiction. She has over 25 years of experience, working in an inpatient setting, an outpatient setting, acute stabilization and nearly all other settings in the realm of addiction recovery.