It’s completely normal to experience bouts of anxiety from time to time – job interviews, meeting new people and being thrown into social situations can easily make a person jittery. There are times, however, when anxiety begins to fester out of control – and that’s when trouble can start. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States; and despite commonplace anxiety, anxiety disorders can bring about a slew of uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  •    Insomnia
  •    Panic attacks
  •    Irritability
  •    Racing thoughts
  •    Heart palpitations
  •    And more

If you struggle with anxiety alongside a substance use disorder (SUD), this means that you have received a dual diagnosis of co-occurring disorders.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnoses are defined by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as,

“A term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously.”

It’s estimated that around 7.9 million people in the United States have a dual diagnosis – so it’s incredibly common, but can be difficult to treat. In many cases, symptoms can blur the lines of which disorder is which, and individuals may act out of character based on either one or both disorders. For example, a person may withdrawal from loved ones because of their severe anxiety, or they may be withdrawing from loved ones in an attempt to hide their substance abuse. With so many overlapping symptoms, it can be hard to pinpoint which one is which; thankfully, effective treatment can be provided to a person for both disorders – which minimizes the risk of any symptoms becoming exacerbated due to not being treated altogether.

Living With Anxiety

There are a number of anxiety disorders that can range from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to phobias, to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and others. People with anxiety fear future events – and because of this, they tend to find their thoughts overflowing, which perpetuates greater feelings of overwhelm. In 2016, writer Sarah Schuster told The Mighty exactly what her anxiety looks like to her:

“When it sneaks out, it transforms into nervous habits. Nail biting. Foot tapping. Running my fingers through my hair. If you look close enough, you can see it in unanswered text messages. Flakiness. Nervous laughter. The panic that flashes through my eyes when a plan changes.”

If you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety can make you feel afraid to step out of your house – to talk to someone you know or even attend work events. In some cases, anxiety looks “normal” on the outside – but for those living with it, it’s downright debilitating.

Anxiety and Addiction

Several years ago, researchers published a study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry which explored the role of self-medication for those with anxiety – and the potential it had for leading a person into addiction. Just last year, Healthline covered the theory of self-medication, which suggests that those with mental illness may rely on substances as a coping mechanism for managing or masking unwanted symptoms. The study aforementioned involved the surveying of 34,653 American adults – with a second interview conducted with these individuals three years later.

The researchers found that of adults with an anxiety disorder, self-medication proved to be a substantial risk for these same adults to later develop SUDs; and with this knowledge, it makes sense why we need to treat both disorders at the same time. Even with the increased likelihood of this happening, why would a person be vulnerable?

In 2018, a study titled, “Cued for Risk: Evidence for Incentive Sensitization Framework to Explain the Interplay Between Stress and Anxiety, Substance Abuse and Reward Uncertainty” found that if we’re already primed to experience anxiety and stress, we’re going to find it hard to avoid anything that could potentially relieve some of what we’re feeling. If we try several outlets and they don’t work, substances could easily make their way into the scene.

Implications for Recovery

It’s a bit tough to identify which disorder comes first, however, because every person’s story is different. The ADAA suggests that while substance abuse can stem from anxiety, anxiety can also develop a side effect of substance abuse. For this reason, it’s crucial that both disorders get treated at the same time. In fact, it could promote relapse prevention by providing a person with all the tools they need to work through both disorders – not just one.

There are a number of techniques that can help people in recovery, such as:

  •    12-Step programs
  •    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  •    Meditation and mindfulness
  •    Medication management
  •    Individual and group therapy
  •    And more

If you’re ready to begin working towards your mental, physical and spiritual health, speak with a professional from Burning Tree today. It’s never too late to turn your life around – and with so many effective treatment options available, you’re bound to find success.

Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree is a 30-60 day addiction treatment program that specializes in helping clients who have tried multiple times to recovery from substance use disorders. We offer an individualized treatment approach and a continuum of care to help clients successfully transition from residential treatment to leading healthy, substance-free lives. Contact us today for more information.

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