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Addiction and Anxiety Disorders: Is There a Connection?

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Addiction and Anxiety Disorders: Is There a Connection?

Could Addiction and Anxiety Disorders be Related?

Mental health issues are common among people with substance use disorder, also known as addiction. Anxiety disorders are the most wide spread mental illnesses in America affecting 18% of the population, or around 40 million adults. It is a highly treatable condition yet only a third of the people affected by the mental illness receive treatment. Many of those who have inadequate methods of coping run a high risk of turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with their symptoms. Addiction and anxiety disorders commonly co-exist and even when they occur at the same time, treatment can be very effective.

What is The Connection between Anxiety and Addiction?

These commonly co-occurring disorders can begin from the person using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate their mood or from continued substance abuse. When a person does not know how to deal with the symptoms of their anxiety disorder, substances such as alcohol can offer them relief. It can make disorders such as social anxiety feel like less of a burden for a short period of time. Eventually, the person will become dependent on the substance to deal with their symptoms. Some substance’s withdrawal symptoms can make a person experience anxiety, which can usually be dealt with through the treatment of the addiction that is causing it. However, without treatment and medical supervision individuals suffering from alcoholism and addiction could experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

“20% of people with an anxiety disorder also are addicted to alcohol or other drugs.”

The Blanket Term of Anxiety Disorders Includes:

  • OCD Disorder
  • PTSD Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Generalizes Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder

“Multiple studies suggest that the co-occurring rate among addiction and anxiety disorders exceeds 50 % for some individuals such as rape victims, veterans, and those who have experienced traumatic events.”

Drugs or Substances That Induce Anxiety are:

  • Alcohol
  • Stimulants
  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Many prescription drugs
  • Over the counter weight loss products

How Does a Person Develop an Anxiety Disorder

The reasons individuals develop an anxiety disorder can not be attributed to one single influence or event however, studies show that they often are brought on by a combination of brain changes and environmental and/or psycho social stress. There are several reasons why a person can develop an anxiety disorder. As with addiction (a mental illness), genetics play a large role. If there are people in your family with mental disorders, the likelihood of developing similar disorders increases. Being exposed to certain environments can also cause a person’s development to change and can lead to types of mental disorders. Anxiety disorders can also be brought on by addiction to substances if the person was already at risk of developing the mental illness.

Common Co-Occurring Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

  • Panic disorder – A panic disorder can be difficult to deal with as a panic attack can strike at any given time. The attacks can cripple a person and can have a lasting effect on the individual for a month or more.
  • Acute stress disorder – After exposure to a traumatic event such as a car accident or assault, and individual can experience extreme stress and anxiety, especially within the same month of the incident.
  • Agoraphobia – Enclosed or crowed spaces can make a person with agoraphobia feel trapped and anxious. Even the thought that getting help for their condition will be difficult can trigger an anxiety attack.
  • Social phobias – A person with a social phobia can have a fear of public embarrassment.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – This condition is characterized by a person obsessively doing a particular task such as cleaning their hands several times a day or hoarding among other tasks. When the task is not done, the anxiety the person feels can be crippling.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – PTSD occurs in situations where a person has experienced an extremely traumatic event that changes their life. Events such as military combat can cause a person to experience the flashbacks and nightmares, creating anxiety in the person’s life.

Addiction and anxiety disorders that co-exist can also include many different types of phobias that cause severe stress in a person’s life. Substance abuse and other social issues can affect a person’s overall mental health. For example, due to an anxiety disorder such as PTSD, a person may become an alcoholic causing problems in their personal relationships as the alcoholism causes the symptoms of PTSD to become worse.

Anxiety and Addiction Treatment is Most Effective In a Professional Setting

Though we describe several examples of co-existing disorders and the general signs or symptoms, each person who suffers from addiction and anxiety is unique depending on their specific anxiety disorder, how it developed, how the addiction developed and which disorder came first. More over, individual experiences make them unique also and may require specialized care based on their medical history or environment. Addiction treatment alone is difficult as is anxiety treatment and when combined it requires even more attention. Specialists who have worked in the field of co-existing disorder treatment gain experience and understanding of what is effective and begin to become more knowledgeable in certain areas of expertise. Finding a specialist who specifically focus on for example PTSD and General Anxiety Disorders can a more effective approach to recovery.

New data suggests that co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and addiction are more common than publicly advertised. In a study published in the International Addictive Behaviors Journal on Science Direct titled Comorbidity of substance use disorders with mood and anxiety disorders: Results of the international consortium in psychiatric epidemiology, the international and nationwide statistics show high rates co-morbidity for individuals suffering from anxiety and substance abuse or dependence.

In the United States 10.7 % of individuals with anxiety or mood disorders use alcohol. 25.7 % have alcohol problems and 37.1 % have an alcohol dependence.

Recovery Involves Dual Diagnosis Treatment

While the treatment for a dual diagnosis (co-occurring mental health disorders) can be more complex than treating one condition alone, there are effective ways to deal with both simultaneously. The congruent treatment is required for the program to be successful over a longer term due to the cycle that is created through the interaction of the disorders. Rehab centers provide patients with dual diagnosis treatment plans as needed.

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