Anxiety disorder and addiction

Is your anxiety affecting your happiness or holding you back from your potential? Have you turned to drugs, alcohol, or certain addictive activities to cope with the symptoms? If so, you may be suffering from co-occurring addiction and anxiety disorder. The link between anxiety and addiction is a complex and bidirectional relationship. On one hand, anxiety can drive people towards addictive substances or behaviours to cope, while at the same time, addiction can exacerbate or even trigger anxiety.

Breaking this cycle requires an understanding of the link between the two and professional help to break it. Banbury Lodge has helped many people through anxiety and addiction recovery and we can help you too.

Anxiety and addiction - man with anxiety

What is an anxiety disorder?

It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time. For example, you might feel anxious before a first date, a big job interview or an important presentation. In these situations, short-term minor anxiety can actually be helpful as it can help you stay focused, motivated and alert. However, when anxiety is excessive and persistent, it can become an anxiety disorder.

An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterised by persistent and intense anxiety or fear in situations where most people would not feel anxious. Anxiety disorders can take many forms but all can cause significant distress, impair daily functioning and interfere with relationships, work and other important aspects of life.

People with anxiety disorders may experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms such as excessive worry, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, panic attacks and difficulty concentrating and sleeping. These symptoms can be overwhelming, making it hard to manage even simple everyday tasks and activities.

Why are co-occurring addiction and anxiety so common?

The answer to this question lies in the complex relationship between the two conditions. Some people with anxiety disorders may turn to addictive substances or behaviours as a way to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms.

Addiction can also exacerbate or even trigger anxiety disorders as substance abuse and behavioural addictions can alter brain chemistry and increase the severity of existing disorders and the risk of developing new ones.

Additionally, the negative consequences of addiction – such as financial problems, legal issues and damaged relationships – can cause significant stress and anxiety.

Finally, both anxiety and addiction are known to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors, meaning that some individuals may be more vulnerable to developing both conditions.

Which anxiety disorders are most common?

Anxiety disorders come in many different forms, each with its own set of symptoms and challenges. Some of the most common dual diagnosis addiction and anxiety disorders are:

Social anxiety disorder and addiction

Social anxiety disorder is characterised by an intense fear of social situations, such as public speaking, dating or attending social events. Social anxiety disorder can have a profound impact on a person’s life as sufferers often avoid social situations altogether, making it challenging to form and maintain relationships, advance in their careers and generally enjoy life.

Social anxiety and addiction often go hand-in-hand and some people turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictive behaviours to self-medicate and manage their symptoms. For example, someone with social anxiety may start drinking before a social event to help them feel more relaxed and outgoing. However, when this becomes habitual and the person is completely unable to function without alcohol, it can quickly lead to addiction.

Generalised anxiety disorder and addiction

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition which causes excessive and persistent worry or fear about everyday events, activities and situations. GAD can cause, trigger and exacerbate addiction as people with this anxiety disorder may turn to substances or addictive behaviours to temporarily distract themselves from their worries. For example, someone with GAD may spend hours playing video games or scrolling social media as a form of escape but this can quickly lead to addiction.

Addiction can also intensify the symptoms of GAD, as negative consequences of substance abuse and addictive behaviours such as sleep deprivation, social isolation, health effects and poor academic or work performance can cause additional stress and worry, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of anxiety and addiction.

Panic disorder and addiction

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterised by recurring and unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks involve the sudden onset of intense fear and physical symptoms such as chest pain, sweating and difficulty breathing. Panic disorder can cause or worsen addiction with people turning to illicit drugs or alcohol to cope with the attacks. Additionally, some people may actually become addicted to their panic disorder medication as they develop a tolerance to it, need more for the same effects and ultimately become physically and psychologically dependent on the medication.

How is addiction and anxiety disorder treated?

The bidirectional relationship between addiction and anxiety disorders can create a vicious cycle that can be incredibly difficult to break. That’s why it’s essential to approach anxiety and addiction concurrently as looking at them together in a holistic way can help individuals learn to better manage the symptoms of both conditions and achieve lasting recovery from addiction.

While rehab treatment is designed to treat addiction, not anxiety disorders, many of the therapies involved are beneficial for both mental health and addiction.

Some of the most effective therapies for anxiety disorder and addiction include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a widely-used form of therapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts, behaviours and emotions. In CBT, you will learn to identify negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones. CBT can be very effective for people with addiction and anxiety disorders as it helps them identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behaviour that contribute to both conditions.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness- and meditation-based therapies can also be hugely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety and addiction. These therapies focus on increasing awareness of the present moment and accepting your thoughts and emotions without judgement. By learning to be present in the moment and accept your thoughts and emotions, you can reduce the negative impact of anxiety on your mental health and avoid the need to use substances or addictive behaviours to manage it.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is a type of therapy that combines elements of CBT with mindfulness-based techniques. The CBT elements teach you how to regulate your emotions and develop interpersonal skills that can improve relationships and reduce anxiety symptoms. At the same time, mindfulness-based techniques, such as breathing exercises and body awareness, can help you stay calm and focused during moments of stress or anxiety when relapse is most likely.

At Banbury Lodge, we provide all of these therapies and many more as part of our comprehensive addiction counselling programmes and they have proven time and time again to help people overcome their addiction and make living with anxiety a far easier prospect.

We will also ensure that you receive any anxiety medication you have been prescribed before coming into rehab so that your condition is stable enough to receive addiction treatment.

Anxiety and addiction - meditation therapy

Busting the myths about addiction and anxiety disorder

Many myths and misconceptions exist around addiction and anxiety disorders, leading to a lack of understanding about how these conditions affect people’s lives. It is important to challenge these myths and focus on the truth so that individuals and their loved ones can gain a better understanding of these complex issues and seek the help they need.

Myth #1: People with social anxiety are just shy…

The truth is that social anxiety disorder is much more than just shyness. People with social anxiety experience an overwhelming fear of social situations and often isolate themselves from society altogether. This can lead to significant impairment in work, relationships and other areas of life with some social anxiety disorder sufferers engaging in substance abuse or addictive behaviours to cope.

Myth #2: “Dutch courage” is never a big issue…

In fact, using alcohol or drugs to calm nerves in social situations can have serious consequences. While it may seem to help in the short term, drinking every time you need to participate in a social event can quickly lead to addiction and exacerbate existing anxiety disorders. This is why it is so important to address both issues so that you can cope in social situations without using alcohol or drugs as a crutch.

Myth #3: Addiction and anxiety can be overcome without professional help…

The reality is that addiction and anxiety disorders can be incredibly difficult to overcome without professional help. A holistic approach is usually needed for treatment which provides the necessary tools to break the cycle of addiction and teaches you new ways of coping with the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

How to get help with anxiety and addiction

If you are struggling with anxiety and addiction, contact Banbury Lodge today. Our comprehensive recovery programmes will help to free you from the grips of addiction, reduce the symptoms of anxiety and teach you new coping skills that can transform your life.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know if my anxiety is a disorder?
It’s normal to feel anxious in certain situations, but if your anxiety is persistent, excessive, and interferes with your daily life, it may be an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety disorders can include excessive worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbances. A mental health professional can evaluate your symptoms and provide a diagnosis.
What are the alternatives to anxiety medication if I become addicted?
Medication can be a helpful tool in managing anxiety, but there are also many non-medication alternatives to consider if you become addicted to anxiety medication. As well as various forms of addiction counselling and therapy, other alternative treatments for anxiety may include exercise, meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques.
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UK Addiction Treatment Group.

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0203 553 3757