Addiction and mental health go hand in hand. In many cases, co-occurring disorders present a “chicken or egg” type of situation, and it can be difficult to pinpoint which came first. It is very common for those struggling with addiction to develop anxiety-related disorders over time, and it is also common for those struggling with untreated anxiety to turn to chemical substances as a method of self-medication. It is crucial that those who struggle with addiction and anxiety seek professional, dual diagnosis treatment in order to thoroughly tackle both issues.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that somewhere around 18 percent of the total US population struggles with some variance of anxiety disorder. Individuals who suffer from anxiety are between two and three times more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder. The truth is that everyone will experience some degree of anxiety on occasion – feeling stressed out and overwhelmed from time to time is (unfortunately) just part of the human experience. Normally these feelings are short-lived, and we are able to calm ourselves down rather easily. Those struggling with anxiety disorders will not be able to talk themselves out of feeling overwhelmed, and their anxiety might linger for a disproportionate amount of time or completely consume them and interfere with normal functioning. Serious, diagnosable anxiety disorders prevent people from functioning in their day to day lives.

Addiction and anxiety are common comorbid disorders, though – as previously mentioned – it can be difficult to determine which preceded the other. Does anxiety cause addiction? Or does addiction cause anxiety? Both can be true. Roughly 20 percent of individuals who struggle with substance abuse also struggle with a mood disorder, and 20 percent of those with mood disorders also struggle with addiction.

Anxiety and Addiction – Signs and Symptoms

Part of the reason why anxiety and addiction often occur together is because the two disorders share the same common risk factors. Some of these shared risk factors include:

  • Drug use during developmental stages – If teenagers begin to abuse drugs while their brains are still developing, they risk permanently altering their brain chemistry. Engaging in substance abuse during developmental stages has been proven to lead to the development of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. 
  • Environmental factors – Some examples of environmental triggers for anxiety-related disorders include early childhood trauma and emotional or physical abuse. Experiences such as these have been proven to lead to substance abuse as well. 
  • Genetic predisposition – Several studies show a significant overlap in specific genetic factors that increase vulnerability to mental health issues like addiction and anxiety. 
  • Brain functioning – Individuals who struggle with anxiety-related disorders might have issues with certain parts of their brain, such as the parts that control reward and reactions to stress. These issues have been linked directly to substance abuse.

More on Anxiety Disorders

There are numerous types of anxiety disorders, some of the most common being:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorders

Symptoms include an inability to concentrate, often feeling restless, irritability, tense muscles, insomnia and an inability to easily fall asleep, and an inability to stop worrying.

  • Panic Disorder

Symptoms include sudden panic attacks, a loss of control over feelings of panic or inexplicable fear, avoiding places in which a panic attack has occurred, ongoing fear of another panic attack occurring, hyperventilation. 

  • Social Anxiety

Symptoms include anxiety when it comes to interacting with other people or attending social events, persistent and irrational fear of being excluded or judged by others, avoidance of social gatherings, having issues communicating with others, becoming physically ill when required to interact with other people or speak in front of people. 

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Symptoms include fear of being contaminated by germs and obsessive cleaning or hand washing as a result, an excessive focus on religious ideals, an intense fear of losing things or of not having personal needs met, fear of losing control of situations or behaviors and potentially harming others or harming oneself.

Symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • Increased tolerance, meaning more of the drug is required in order for the same effects to be produced. 
  • Attempting to cut back on intake but being unable, or consistently ingesting more of the drug than was originally intended. 
  • Continuing substance use despite interpersonal consequences, such as issues at work, financial issues or legal issues. 
  • A strong craving for chemical substances, one that interferes with day to day life. 
  • A lack of motivation and an inability to take care of general tasks because of drug use. 
  • Increased risk-taking behavior, such as driving while intoxicated or engaging in illegal activities in order to support a habit. 
  • Foregoing other activities that were previously enjoyed in lieu of drug use. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms that occur when attempting to cut back on use or when the drug of choice is no longer readily available.

Those that struggle with anxiety and addiction must enter into a dual diagnosis treatment program, where both issues will be tackled simultaneously. In order for an individual to maintain long-term sobriety, he or she must be treated for all co-occurring mental health disorders. If anxiety is not properly treated, the symptoms of the anxiety-related disorder will typically lead to relapse in a very short period of time.

Immersion Recovery Center and Dual Diagnosis Treatment

At Immersion Recovery Center, we offer dual diagnosis treatment options to those who struggle with addiction and anxiety, regardless of which disorder preceded the other. However, an important part of our job is determining which came first. Those who struggle with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder often turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. Using chemical substances may temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety, though it is extremely important to note that all relief will be short-lived and that ultimately substance use will make symptoms significantly worse. If an anxiety disorder was present before substance abuse, a resident will undergo a psychiatric evaluation and will be prescribed an anti-anxiety medication by one of our prescribing physicians. There are also several drugs that can lead to substance-induced symptoms of anxiety. These include alcohol, hallucinogens, inhalants, PCP and stimulant drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine or Adderall (prescription stimulants). If it is found that an anxiety disorder was drug-induced then treatment will be more short-term. In cases like these, with medication and prolonged sobriety, symptoms will eventually resolve and medication will no longer be necessary (unless permanent damage was done to brain functioning). Once a client is admitted to our dual diagnosis program, he or she will be monitored regularly to determine which medications and therapeutic modalities are more effective in treating symptoms long-term, and adjustments will be made as necessary.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with anxiety and addiction, medical detox is a necessary first step. During detox the client will be physically stabilized and will undergo a highly personalized and detailed assessment, where all co-occurring disorders will be examined in-depth. From here, placement in an appropriate inpatient treatment center will be the next step on the road to recovery. For more information on our comprehensive program of dual diagnosis treatment, or to learn more about the relationship between anxiety disorders and addiction, give us a call today. We will gladly answer any questions you may have and get you started on your own journey of mental health and addiction recovery as quickly as possible.

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