Anxiety and addiction

Understanding the complex link between anxiety disorders and addiction is vital for those who are suffering from both. When these issues become entangled with each other, the effects can be difficult to manage, especially if there is a lack of understanding. If you’re presently facing both an anxiety disorder and addiction, it’s important to keep reading to find ways to handle and treat these conditions. By enhancing your understanding, you can take proactive measures towards anxiety and addiction recovery.

What is anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterised by persistent and excessive feelings of worry, fear and apprehension. It can be triggered by various situations or events, such as public speaking, job interviews or even everyday interactions. For some, anxiety can arise seemingly out of nowhere, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Symptoms can include;

  • Excessive and persistent worry or fear.
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Breathing difficulties

Commonly co-occurring anxiety disorders

Co-occurring disorders, where an individual experiences both an anxiety disorder and addiction simultaneously, are not uncommon. The interaction between these conditions can create a vicious cycle where each exacerbates the other. Below, we take a closer look at some of the most common anxiety disorders that co-occur with addiction:

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

GAD is characterised by persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of life, such as health, work, family and finances. The constant state of anxiety can become overwhelming, prompting people to seek relief from their distress through addictive substances or behaviours.

People with GAD might turn to substances like alcohol, drugs or even engage in addictive behaviours like overeating or compulsive shopping to alleviate their anxious feelings temporarily. However, this relief is often short-lived and can lead to a harmful cycle of dependence and worsening anxiety.

Panic disorder (PD)

PD involves recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, which are intense episodes of fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweating, trembling and a sense of doom and gloom. The fear of experiencing future panic attacks can lead individuals to self-medicate with addictive substances to manage the intense anxiety associated with the disorder. These substances’ soothing or numbing effects may temporarily relieve panic-related symptoms. Over time, though, these substances can contribute to addiction, worsening the overall mental health picture.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD)

SAD is characterised by an intense fear of social situations, particularly those involving the possibility of scrutiny, judgement or embarrassment. Individuals with social anxiety may turn to substances to reduce their inhibitions and anxiety in social settings. Alcohol, for instance, might be used to “liquid courage” to ease the discomfort of social interactions. However, this reliance on substances can have negative consequences as it interferes with developing healthy coping mechanisms and can lead to addiction. Also, the subsequent regret or embarrassment resulting from substance use can further exacerbate social anxiety.

Anxiety or addiction; What came first?

As you navigate the intricate path of understanding anxiety and addiction, you might wonder which challenges came first. It’s not uncommon for individuals to question whether their anxiety fueled their addiction or if their addiction triggered heightened anxiety. The truth is that the relationship between anxiety and addiction can be complex and multifaceted.

The question of what came first—anxiety or addiction—resembles a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. In some cases, anxiety disorders precede addiction. An individual might turn to substances or behaviours as a way to self-medicate, attempting to alleviate the distressing symptoms of anxiety. Below is an example highlighting this:

Meet Sarah, a gifted artist in her mid-30s grappling with mounting anxiety. Job loss triggered her Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), causing restless nights and racing thoughts. Seeking relief, she turned to both art and alcohol. What started as a glass of wine to quiet her mind grew into a dependency, intensifying her worries. Alcohol became her escape, trapping her in a cycle of numbing anxiety.

Conversely, addiction can also precede the emergence of anxiety disorders. Substance abuse or addictive behaviours can disrupt brain chemistry and trigger anxiety. As addiction deepens, feelings of guilt, shame and fear of withdrawal can intensify anxiety. Below, we meet Dave, who is currently struggling with this idea:

Dave, a successful lawyer known for his confidence, battled beneath a veneer of perfection. His Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) compelled him to obsess over minutiae, fearing errors would trigger disaster. To quell his anxiety, he turned to prescription painkillers. As the drugs calmed his obsessions, dependence grew, worsening his anxiety. Juggling this dual burden, he concealed his struggles until a panic attack during a critical case became his wake-up call.

Sarah and Dave’s stories may be fictional, but they mirror the real struggles that many people face. The fictional scenarios highlight the interconnectedness of anxiety and addiction. In both cases, the characters turned to substances to cope with their anxiety, only to find themselves caught in a cycle that intensified their struggles.

The path to healing for Sarah and Dave begins with seeking professional help. So how can Sarah, Dave and even yourself be treated for anxiety and addiction?

Treating addiction and anxiety disorders

Oasis Runcorn specialises primarily in addiction rehab treatment, meaning our services do not cater specifically to anxiety disorders. However, if you’re facing a dual diagnosis of anxiety disorder and addiction, the therapeutic approaches within our treatment programme can bring substantial advantages.

We offer the following rehab therapies:

  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): This therapeutic approach melds aspects of CBT with mindfulness methods. It equips you with skills to regulate emotions and enhance interpersonal relationships. DBT aids in managing anxiety, handling cravings and curbing impulsive behaviours linked with addiction.
  • Group therapy: Blending expert guidance with peer support, group therapy creates a potent healing environment for individuals confronting both anxiety and addiction. It fosters a nurturing space and diminishes the sense of isolation often associated with anxiety disorders and addiction.
  • Individual therapy: When tailored for those with a dual diagnosis of anxiety disorder and addiction, individual therapy simultaneously addresses anxiety disorder and addiction.

For those dealing with anxiety disorder and addiction, holistic therapies offer invaluable support. These comprehensive approaches consider your mental and physical well-being, so we’ve incorporated holistic therapies into our treatment process.

Engaging in Oasis Runcorn’s holistic therapies equips you with indispensable tools and coping strategies to effectively manage your anxiety and progress towards addiction recovery.

The holistic therapies provided by Oasis Runcorn include:

What’s next?

If you or someone you know are currently struggling with anxiety disorders and an addiction, it’s vital to seek help as soon as possible. With these co-occurring issues, managing them solely on your own can be extremely difficult. By reaching out for help with your issues, you’re enabling yourself to have the best possible start on your road to anxiety and addiction recovery. Reach out to Oasis Runcorn today and regain your life.

Frequently asked questions

Can treating one condition lead to improvement in the other?
Yes, addressing one condition can often positively impact the other. For example, if anxiety is treated effectively, the urge to self-medicate with substances might decrease, reducing the risk of addiction. Similarly, if addiction is treated, the resulting reduction in substance use can alleviate some of the anxiety symptoms.
How can friends and family support someone dealing with these co-occurring issues?
Educating themselves about both conditions, offering non-judgmental support and encouraging their loved ones to seek professional help are crucial steps. Additionally, participating in family therapy can provide a supportive environment for recovery.