Anxiety or Just Stress?
When people talk about anxiety, they’re referring to one of two things: situational anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of both can overlap with one another, and people often confuse the two. That’s why it’s a good idea to get to know the difference between them. Everybody experiences situational anxiety. When people go through stressful situations – for example, when a car cuts someone off and forces them to slam the brakes – their adrenaline spikes, causing a short burst of anxiety. The difference with situational anxiety, however, is that the adrenaline goes away and allows the person to calm down.
With anxiety disorders, however, the adrenaline remains long after it’s appropriate for it to go away, causing long-lasting fear and tension.
Furthermore, people with anxiety disorders also experience these symptoms when there is no immediate danger. A general rule of thumb is that if your anxiety lasts for a long time and interferes with your ability to live your life, you may have an anxiety disorder. If you do have an anxiety disorder, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Fear and stress that are disproportionate to the situation
- Overthinking, or getting caught in “thought loops”
- Feeling like something is just “off” or “not right”
Anxiety disorders come in several different varieties, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, social anxiety, panic disorder, and several others.
Anxiety and Substance Abuse
Researchers have noticed a connection between anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
People with anxiety disorders sometimes turn to drugs and alcohol to get relief from their symptoms. As a result, many people with anxiety get caught in a cycle of dependence. When you drink alcohol or take recreational drugs to feel calm, your brain will begin to associate these drugs with feelings of calmness. Eventually, thanks to some brain changes, you’ll feel that you need those drugs to stay calm. You may also feel that you cannot relax at all without them. You’ll also start to build a tolerance, which means that you’ll need more and more of your drug of choice to achieve the same effect. Soon, this tolerance leads to addiction.
One study found that 48% of its participants with an addiction also suffered from anxiety.
Treatment for Both
Because addiction and anxiety are so intertwined, you’ll have to get treatment for both at the same time. Often, people don’t know where the anxiety ends and the addiction begins, and a lot of problems are caused by both at the same time.
It’s a good idea to start your treatment with medical detox, especially if you’re addicted to alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. Doctors will sometimes use a “tapering off” method of detox with patients who have anxiety. Quitting certain drugs “cold turkey” can cause rebound anxiety for many patients. When a person has used drugs to deal with those anxiety symptoms, the symptoms can come back more strongly when the drugs are suddenly removed. Tapering off is a way to ease the patient off the drugs without causing too much stress.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and substance abuse, call 800-492-QUIT today.
After detox, you might seek rehab to continue your treatment. Look for a rehab facility that has staff members who understand dual diagnosis, or having an addiction and a mental health disorder at the same time. Most rehabs only treat the addiction, which usually isn’t enough for people who also have anxiety.
After rehab, you should continue to seek treatment for both your anxiety and your addiction. Both of these conditions are lifelong disorders that can be managed through proper, consistent treatment. Talking to a therapist on a regular basis can help you manage symptoms and feel better.
Safe vs Unsafe Medication
Your treatment for anxiety may also include medication. Many recovering adults dislike the idea of taking any medications because they worry about relapse. However, many of the drugs that doctors prescribe for anxiety are non-addictive. Some of the more common medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which help the brain regulate serotonin, a chemical that aids in calmness. These medications, unlike some other types of prescriptions, do not cause cravings. In fact, if you’ve been using drugs or alcohol to deal with your anxiety symptoms, SSRIs can become an effective part of your addiction treatment. When medication helps you manage your anxiety, you can stop relying on non-healthy sources.
Still, those who have a history of addiction should avoid a certain type of anxiety medication: benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax are sometimes prescribed for panic disorders. Unlike SSRIs, these medications are very addictive.
Before your doctor prescribes any sort of medication for your anxiety, make sure that he or she knows about your addiction.
How to Get Help
Are you struggling with substance abuse and an anxiety disorder? Finding treatment can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help.