Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Anxiety disorders afflict more Americans than any other type of mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 18 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

Almost everybody feels anxious at some point in their life, whether it be before a test, presentation, competitive event, etc. However, somebody with an anxiety disorder will have their life interrupted every so often with overwhelming stress, worry, fear or uneasiness. These extreme feelings will often seep in ahead of a major event or uncertain outcome in the person’s life.

What Are the Different Types of Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety comes in many different forms, and it can affect the individual psychologically as well as physically. Anxiety is a diagnosable medical condition, but when doctors are trying to make such an evaluation, they try to pinpoint a certain type of anxiety disorder. In order to meet the criteria for being diagnosed for an anxiety disorder, a person must display symptoms of the condition on most days of the week continuously for six months or more.

The different types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): A continuous, unrealistic sense of fear or dread, no matter the upcoming situation.
  • Panic disorder: Feelings of sudden, overwhelming terror that strike at any given time, lasting around 10 minutes long. The individual may feel like he or she is hyperventilating or having a heart attack during one of these episodes.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Often suffered by somebody who was in military combat or a major car accident, PTSD is characterized by nightmares, irritability, insomnia and frequent flashbacks to the event in question.
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD): An unreasonable fear of interacting with other people, such as appearing in crowded places, partaking in social activities or being asked to speak publicly.
  • Various phobias: Do you fear heights? Flying? Being trapped in enclosed spaces? Clowns? Germs? Certain animals? If the fear is overly debilitating and irrational, then you may be diagnosed with a specific phobia.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was once considered an anxiety disorder, but now it’s regarded as its own unique condition. OCD is characterized by recurring and distressing thoughts and fears, which often end up giving rise to unique rituals or routines that help alleviate those feelings.

Symptoms of Anxiety

A moderate amount of anxiety can be beneficial in certain situations. If anxiety prompts someone to study harder for a test or prepare more for an upcoming event, then the worries and restlessness might just pay off.

Unfortunately, anxiety usually inhibits, rather than helps, a person. Although there are many different types of anxiety, as you just read, some common symptoms when somebody is suffering an anxiousness-heavy episode are:

  • Difficulty sitting still or relaxing
  • Excessive sweating or clamminess
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Fidgeting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea (and even vomiting)
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle tension
  • Heartburn
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking sensations
  • Numbness in hands and/or feet
  • Insomnia

If a person experiences repeated episodes of such symptoms, then his or her relationships, job performance, social interaction and overall satisfaction with life may start to suffer. The individual will probably make repeated attempts to resolve their fears without success, and they may begin to abuse alcohol, drugs, tobacco or even food when trying to manage these symptoms.

Stats and Facts About the Relationship Between Drugs, Alcohol and Anxiety

It’s not uncommon for someone to misuse drugs or alcohol as a means of trying to suppress their symptoms of anxiety. Here are some alarming stats and facts to keep in mind when talking about anxiety and substance abuse, and how the two often go hand in hand:

  • The lifetime prevalence rate of anxiety is 28.8 percent, while the substance abuse rate is 14.6 percent. This means that nearly 30 percent of the population has suffered from anxiety, while about 15 percent has suffered from substance abuse.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that people with anxiety are twice as likely as the general population to struggle with substance abuse.
  • Both anxiety and substance abuse may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, such as low serotonin.
  • Nearly 15 million American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, while about 9 percent of American adults will experience a specific phobia within any 12-month period, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH).
  • Women are 60 percent more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.
  • Hispanics are 30 percent less likely than non-Hispanic whites to suffer from an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, according to the NIH. Non-Hispanic African-Americans are 20 percent less likely than non-Hispanic whites to experience an anxiety disorder.
  • Nearly 23 percent of anxiety disorder cases are classified as “severe,” according to the NIH.
  • Misusing drugs or alcohol can cause symptoms that are reminiscent of those of anxiety, such as sleeplessness, irritability, irrational fears and nervousness.

How to Help Someone Struggling with Substance Abuse and Anxiety

If you know someone who is struggling with anxiety and substance abuse issues, here are some ways to personally help them as well as how to get them to seek treatment:

  • Be compassionate and nonjudgmental: Give the person your undivided attention, listen to them thoroughly and focus on the positive potential consequences – rather than dwelling on past negative behaviors or outcomes.
  • Watch out for denial or defensive behavior: Many people who are abusing alcohol will keep secrets or be in denial of the severity of their problem. If they have an anxiety disorder on top of it, they might be paranoid about being approached in this manner or delusional about their behavior. They might become argumentative and even combative. In this case, you may want to enlist two or more people, such as family members or friends, to help approach the individual.
  • Try to guide them to find help: Don’t just tell your loved one to seek treatment. Do your part in helping them find the most appropriate option! Help direct them to the therapist, physician, 12-step group or rehabilitation center that will best serve their needs.
  • Offer your ongoing emotional and practical support: Once the person has entered treatment, don’t just wash your hands of the situation. See if you can make the call about their next appointment, or give them a ride there. Can you accompany them to a 12-step meeting? Do whatever it takes to show your continued support as they begin recovering from substance abuse and an anxiety disorder.

Drugs, Alcohol and Anxiety Treatment at Maryland Recovery

Maryland Recovery not only offers drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation, but we also specialize in dual diagnosis treatment – basically, treating a mental health condition that plays a role in one’s substance abuse.

Any client showing symptoms of an anxiety disorder will have his or her recovery plan adjusted upon embarking on the “residential outpatient” treatment program at Maryland Recovery. Our staff is fully trained and prepared to stop the effects of anxiety and substance abuse from controlling a person’s life.

See Our Dual Diagnosis Program