Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction often go hand-in-hand. In many cases, substance abuse and addiction develop when people attempt to quell anxiety with drugs or alcohol, which may seem like the only way to escape the suffocating feelings. This is a temporary and potentially dangerous solution, because turning to substances for relief often results in severe “rebound” anxiety that is much worse than the original problem. For others, addiction comes first and leads to tremendous stress and increasing anxiety.

Regardless of which came first, addiction and anxiety can become a vicious cycle with one contributing to the severity of the other. Anxiety must be taken seriously; the longer the cycle of self-medicating and rebounding continues, the more difficult it is to address either issue and recovery becomes more challenging.

Anxiety: a Common Disorder

Anxiety is the Western world's most common mental disorder, with an estimated 18 percent of the population struggling with various types of anxiety such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), agoraphobia or other specific phobias. Approximately 20 percent of those people are addicted to drugs or alcohol, with an even higher rate of addiction among certain groups such as veterans or victims or rape or other trauma.

Addiction researchers have discovered that it doesn’t work to treat one problem without treating the other. Anxiety and addiction must be treated simultaneously; otherwise drug and alcohol treatment tends to be ineffective, greatly increasing the risk of relapse.

Unfortunately, many individuals avoid drug and alcohol treatment because they are fearful of extreme anxiety, especially during withdrawal. However, a good drug and alcohol treatment center or rehab is well-equipped to help people manage anxiety and other difficulties that may occur.

Treatment for anxiety typically includes therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which can offer insight and help people change negative thinking patterns; or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). Other strategies may include yoga, meditation, exercise or acupuncture. Biochemical restoration following a thorough medical checkup to exclude any other underlying illness or metabolic/hormonal malfunction is also key.

Help for Friends and Family

Caring about a person with an anxiety disorder is challenging, especially for spouses and partners. Financial issues become a problem if the person has trouble maintaining a job. Anxiety can take a significant toll on relationships, and it’s difficult to know how to help. Partners may feel resentment, anger and guilt. Social life is often interrupted by the disorder, causing feelings of frustration and isolation all around.

If somebody you care about is struggling with an anxiety disorder, consider the following advice:

  • Learn about the disorder and the ways in which anxiety affects brain chemistry, producing negative thinking that triggers even more anxiety. Knowledge will help you understand why the disorder is so difficult and how it can be treated.
  • Encourage your friend or family member to seek treatment for anxiety and addiction. Some counselors may recommend couples or family therapy, which can be extremely helpful. However, don’t expect immediate results. Learning to cope with anxiety takes time and attempting to rush the process may make matters worse.
  • Consider a holistic medical investigation in order to detect/exclude other underlying illness or biochemical imbalances.
  • Ask how you can help, and then listen carefully. Don’t judge. Don’t attempt to make the person feel guilty and don’t assume you know what’s best. Allow the person to talk about his feelings, even if he repeats the same thing time and time again.
  • Understand that anxiety isn’t relieved by reasoning or logic, no matter how hard you try. Anxiety isn’t like being nervous before an important test or job interview; it’s more complex and much more difficult to control. It’s also extremely difficult to explain.
  • Don’t give up your own life. Maintaining your outside interests and hobbies will help you cope with the stress.
  • Rely on your own support system. Talk to an understanding friend or family member. Don’t hesitate to seek counseling if you feel overwhelmed.
  • Cultivate forgiveness. While it’s important to maintain your own boundaries, remember that the chemical brain changes associated with anxiety may make the person frustrated and irritable. Remember that anxiety is partly chemical and partly mental.
  • Spend time with your friend or family member. Have fun with activities that don’t require drugs or alcohol. Get outdoors in the fresh air.
  • Be hopeful. It may not always feel like it, but anxiety is highly treatable.

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