Addiction and anxiety go hand in hand, unfortunately, sometimes with a third party in the mix in the form of depression. While not completely understood, the link between anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and substance abuse is clear. Drug addicts are about 20 percent more likely to struggle with anxiety and about 27 percent of people with depression also struggle with drug use. Yet what makes these health issues so much more complicated is the fact that they are often concealed by drug use.
Both depression and anxiety are complications of the brain, wherein errant thoughts and negative thinking cause a person to stress out, fear, worry, and feel bad over circumstances and issues that are either out of their control, or entirely irrational.
Depression is a deep and profound sadness with no clear origin and lasting side effects, while anxiety springs up from the same lack of clear origin, causing a person to feel perturbed, uncomfortable, and unsettled without the need for any external stimuli. However, drug use often quells or even temporarily stops these symptoms from occurring. Part of the reason why the correlation between mental illness and addiction is so strong is because of how many Americans with mental health issues consciously or unconsciously self-medicate.
When the ability to self-medicate goes away, what is often left behind is the dangerous fact that many addicts do not possess any effective coping mechanisms outside of more prolonged drug use. This makes them incredibly vulnerable to stress and stress-related mental health issues, of which anxiety is a prime example.
Anxiety and Addiction
Anxiety develops in the mind due to several factors, including internal ones (genetics) and external ones (trauma and stress). Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, paranoia, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Addiction, on the other hand, is a physical dependence on a drug due to the way drug use affects and changes the pathways in the brain associated with reward. Drugs stimulate the brain’s cells and increase the amount of dopamine in a person’s system, causing the body to struggle and adapt to the sudden influx of neurotransmitters, normalizing and thus depending on addictive drugs for a variety of basic functions.
Combined, the two become very difficult to treat. Drug use not only masks anxiety, but it can greatly amplify it after the fact. Stimulants and depressants alike may temporarily soothe depressive issues, but in the context of an addiction, prolonged use will leave a person feeling more anxious, causing their condition to worsen. This can be seen in some people’s withdrawal symptoms, as they begin to exhibit signs of severe paranoia and, in some cases, drug-induced psychosis (perceiving reality in a flawed or false manner).
Dual Diagnoses and Concurrent Treatment
When a person is diagnosed with both anxiety and addiction, their treatment is adapted to handle both issues concurrently. While abstinence can help treat addiction, it can also cause a short amplification of anxiety symptoms. To help patients deal with this, some psychiatrists may temporarily prescribe medication to help ease the symptoms of anxiety during recovery. Antidepressants can be effective, but in severe cases, anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax may be necessary. Under the strict and watchful eye of medical professionals, the patient will undergo detox and rehab at a residential treatment facility, while their symptoms are monitored.
Once withdrawal symptoms cease, treatment can help address the challenge of surviving sobriety while experiencing anxiety symptoms. While ‘regular’ sobriety after addiction can be quite challenging, coupling that with the symptoms of a mental disorder further amplifies the challenge. However, a dual diagnosis can be treated. Treatments for anxiety during sobriety include continued medical attention and prescribed medication, talk therapy, group therapy, and a number of alternative therapies to help patients dissociate from their worries and calm themselves down in cases of stress and anxiety, including yoga, mindfulness, breathing techniques, and grounding exercises.
As the recovery program goes on, patients can choose either to transition into their everyday lives, or continue in a different program, ranging from partial hospitalization in severe cases of addiction and anxiety, to inpatient programs, sober living homes, and more. However, should a patient choose to complete their recovery program, they’re faced with another challenge – living a sober life.
Anxiety During Sobriety
After addiction programs are over, the recovery process continues in the sense that a person can choose to continue managing and maintaining their sobriety. Drug addiction programs are meant to act as a primer, helping a person prepare for the challenges that may lie ahead. But the nature and severity of those challenges is unknown. It’s impossible to tell how life might pan out over the years – making continued recovery important.
Whether through therapy, group meetings, or through a strict adherence to personal stress management solutions, the key to maintaining a grip over your addiction and your anxiety in sobriety after your recovery programs have ended is continuing to work on your recovery, but without the programs.
Dealing with Anxiety Without Drug Use
When you take away a person’s main coping mechanism, you need to help them replace it. As powerful as drugs are, they ultimately a flawed and ineffective coping mechanism, often making anxiety worse in the long-term.
Recovery programs focus on helping patients adapt to a sober world, often by introducing new and more effective coping mechanisms and forms of stress management, relieving anxiety symptoms through lifestyle changes and the use of various therapies. Examples include: an improved and patient-centric diet and exercise program, a schedule that encourages patients to spend more time outside and develop healthier hobbies, time spent with other recovering addicts with similar issues and different paths to success, and various forms of talk therapy to help patients individually adapt to their new circumstances.
Anxiety in a Post-Recovery Life
Long-term anxiety management requires an understanding of the disorder, both in the sense that a patient must understand how anxiety manifests, and how it manifests in them specifically. Managing anxiety symptoms is important because in recovering addicts, a bout or episode of anxiety can translate into a potential relapse. However, this is not something you need to do alone. The key to long-term recovery lies in seeking help from others, whether they’re family, friends, or professionals.