Anxiety and its Link to Substance Abuse


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders diagnosed in children and adults. Additionally, it’s common that anxiety and substance abuse can exist at the same time in individuals. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly 20% of Americans with an anxiety disorder also abuse substances, and 20% of those with a substance use disorder have an anxiety or mood disorder. When two disorders are present at the same time, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Here’s a look at the different ways in which anxiety disorders can co-exist with substance abuse, and how treatment can treat anxiety and substance abuse.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Addiction

Many people struggle with some form of an anxiety disorder, be it social anxiety, panic, acute stress or obsession-compulsion. Anxiety and drug addiction can develop independently of each other, but often each disorder develops as a result of the other.

Social anxiety disorder and PTSD are two types of disorders that commonly lead to drug or alcohol abuse. Individuals who don’t receive the proper diagnosis or treatment to manage anxiety are at a greater risk of developing a substance abuse problem. These substances are often used as a form of self-medication to function day-to-day and can develop into an addiction.

In fact, as tolerance develops, a substance may become less effective in reducing a person’s anxiety. They might start looking to more substances to relieve their anxiety, thus making it difficult to break the cycle of drug abuse.

Anxiety can develop as a result of addiction. Chemicals in opioids, alcohol, and other substances can cause symptoms of anxiety, including constant worry, nervousness, and physical symptoms like headaches and dizziness. Anxiety can occur during alcohol withdrawal, meaning that it can last days after use. Again, this could lead to repeated substance abuse to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction

Modern practices call for the anxiety and the addiction to be treated together. This seems obvious, but it used to be that professionals dealing with each disorder didn’t realize just how present and intertwined they could be. In the past, many treatment approaches failed because they didn’t account for the whole person or both diagnoses.

For example, if your anxiety came first, then treating your addiction wouldn’t address the underlying causes of your anxiety. You might just find another unhealthy behavior to manage the symptoms of your anxiety. In fact, it could become even worse if you were faced with the thought of having to go off the substance you were using for self-medication without having a replacement plan to prevent relapse.

Similarly, if your addiction came first, treating only the anxiety isn’t practical. Without addressing the underlying causes of anxiety, feelings and motivations that lead to substance abuse could still remain.

Regardless of how the two disorders developed, the good news is that both can be treated. When you seek treatment for addiction, it helps to be aware of the possibility that you could also have anxiety or another mood disorder. Anxiety takes many forms, and some people do not always realize they have it. Professionals at Pyramid Healthcare can diagnose co-occurring disorders.

If you have anxiety and addiction, your counselors can develop treatment plans to address the root causes and symptoms of both disorders. View our services pages for more information on dual diagnosis treatment for adults and teens.

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