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The Connection Between Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, impacting approximately 40 million people. Those who live with anxiety on a daily basis understand that this mental illness is not one that is easily ignored, rather it is one that can completely take control over their lives instantaneously. Anxiety does not look the exactly same for everyone who has it, but all types of this mental illness can produce feelings of fear, uncontrollable worry, and intrusive or unwanted thoughts. Anxiety is not only limited to generalized anxiety, rather it comes in several different types, including the following:

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social phobia

Anxiety disorders are often treated through a combination of therapy and medication. Individuals with one or more of these anxiety disorders can benefit from working with one or more therapists to address the underlying causes of their anxiety, what their triggers are, and what skills they need to develop to cope with this illness to the best of their abilities. And while for some, therapy is enough to help them manage their anxiety, others require both therapy and medication, such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants. This is because anxiety occurs because of environmental causes or biological causes or a combination of both. So, for some, medication is a necessity to help balance out brain chemistry and improve the presence of symptoms related to anxiety.

Unfortunately, not everyone with an anxiety disorder gets the help they need to properly cope with it. Countless individuals grappling with social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. look to self-medicate their symptoms rather than seek professional treatment. As a result, this can lead to substance abuse and possibly even the development of addiction.

How Are Anxiety and Substance Abuse Linked?

Anxiety can be the foundational reason for someone’s substance abuse or a result of a pre-existing substance abuse problem. More often than not, however, people find themselves using drugs or alcohol to deal with the symptoms of their anxiety disorder, and there are several viable reasons for doing so. 

Anxiety disorders produce symptoms that can be extremely difficult to deal with independently. They can also produce symptoms that may be easier to manage, but become overwhelming because they are occurring around-the-clock. Some of the most problematic symptoms associated with anxiety disorders include the following:

  • Regularly experiencing feelings of impending doom or danger
  • Problems concentrating, focusing, or being in the present moment
  • Battling irrational fears to the extent that they disrupt one’s life
  • Experiencing intrusive, disturbing thoughts 
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Developing gastrointestinal problems 
  • Being unable to control worries or fears 

An anxiety disorder that goes untreated can easily cause a person to suffer from these consequences and more. When unable to get enough rest, eat well, or even be present in the moment around loved ones, a person can easily start to look for fast, simple ways to make those (and other) issues go away. Substance abuse tied to untreated anxiety disorders can look like this:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol at random, inappropriate times of the day or night
  • Vocalizing the need for drugs or alcohol in order to cope
  • Using more than directed of a prescribed medication 
  • Asking others for prescription drugs such as Xanax or Klonopin
  • Taking prescription drugs or alcohol from someone else’s home
  • Not allowing any time to lapse in between doses of a prescription drug 
  • Panicking if unable to access drugs or alcohol
  • Prioritizing drugs or alcohol over more important responsibilities
  • Withdrawing socially from friends, family, or others

As mentioned before, anxiety disorders are not always the cause of substance abuse, but rather a response to it. Anxiety and symptoms related to it are some of the most common side effects of substance abuse, even in those who have never experienced this mental illness before. That is because when mind-altering substances are being abused, the brain begins malfunctioning and chemistry is thrown off. For example, consider someone who abuses meth. Meth is a stimulant substance that creates an increase in the function of GABA in the brain. GABA is responsible for many jobs, including producing calming properties. When someone repeatedly abuses meth, they are influencing the brain in ways that GABA no longer needs to work on its own because the meth is triggering its function instead. So, when someone comes down from a meth high or is unable to use back-to-back, they can quickly begin experiencing severe pangs of anxiety that can only be remedied by the use of more meth. What was once not a problem can quickly become a problem because of how drugs and alcohol interact with the brain. For those who develop anxiety in response to their substance abuse, their symptoms might look like this:

  • Making sure they are constantly getting themselves high to prevent anxiety 
  • Feeling the onset of anxiety and immediately turning to the use of drugs or alcohol to make those feelings stop
  • Behaving erratically when coming down from a high or from being intoxicated
  • Prioritizing substance abuse over everything else in life
  • Wanting to stop abusing drugs or alcohol but being afraid to because of the eventual onset of anxiety symptoms
  • Making attempts to stop using but quickly relapsing due to being anxious 

No matter the primary reason for one’s anxiety, when this particular mental illness is combined with substance abuse, a dangerous and deadly cycle can begin. The most important thing a person can do when experiencing this type of concern is to reach out and ask for professional help as quickly as possible.

Sober Living in Los Angeles

We understand how hard it is to live with both anxiety and addiction. We also know that with our help, you can overcome the challenges that you are facing once and for all. So, do not wait any longer. Call us right now to learn more about how we can help you put your substance abuse in the past and focus on treating your anxiety the right way.