Among the many mental health disorders that commonly occur in individuals who suffer from substance use disorder and addiction, anxiety disorders are among the most common. Characterized by the frequent experience of debilitating fear and anxiety, anxiety disorders are unpleasant and can lead individuals to a state of desperation as they search for ways to alleviate their anxieties. But does that mean anxiety and addiction have a direct causal relationship?
What is Anxiety?
The spectrum of human emotion is vast and diverse. And not only is it diverse, emotion is quite transient. On any given day, a person can experience a wide range of emotions, covering a significant portion of the emotional spectrum. Of course, when we consider emotion, we often focus on feelings like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and a number of other well-known emotions that leave very little room for interpretation. After all, when a person is experiencing happiness, we have a very strong understanding of how that person is feeling and even have an idea of the type of stimulus that causes feelings of happiness. But other emotions are a bit more complicated, warranting some explanation and elaboration. One of those more complex emotions is anxiety.
By definition, anxiety is characterized as an unpleasant state of inner turmoil. More often than not, this “inner turmoil” is accompanied by nervousness and nervous-like behaviors. For example, people who are experiencing anxiety might pace back and forth or feel the sensation of having butterflies in their stomachs. Additionally, there can be a number of physiological symptoms that accompany anxiety, including an increased heart rate, increased respiration, sweating, nausea, high blood pressure, dizziness, and so on.
Like feelings of happiness or anger, anxiety is a feeling that is normal and expected. Though the frequency can vary considerably depending on the amount of stress and the number of stress-inducing situations in a person’s life, most people experience some amount of anxiety at least somewhat regularly. However, it’s important to note that anxiety isn’t the same as fear or stress. While feelings of fear and stress are emotional responses to real or actualized events, anxiety is, by comparison, a feeling that a person might get regarding events that haven’t actually happened, whether the event is imminent — i.e. about to happen — or imagined.
Anxiety Disorder vs. “normal” Anxiety
Although anxiety is a feeling that the vast majority of us experience without warranting cause for concern, anxiety can reach a level of intensity that is, in fact, concerning. This is the difference between natural, “normal” anxiety and the more exaggerated, intensified anxiety that characterized an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders that are characterized by feelings of intense fear and anxiety. Much like your typical, everyday anxiety, there are physiological symptoms that accompany the anxiety a person experiences as part of an anxiety disorder, including many of the same symptoms like elevated heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, increased respiration, and nausea. But there are certain differences that distinguish an anxiety disorder from everyday anxiety. In particular, an anxiety disorder will affect many other areas of a person’s life and is likely to inhibit a person’s ability to function. Additionally, an anxiety disorder will dominate a person’s mind, making it very difficult or nearly impossible to concentrate because of the imposing feelings of fear.Over the years, there have been a number of mental and emotional health disorders to be connected to substance abuse and addiction. Through research and observation, we’ve seen that these specific disorders have elevated rates of comorbidity with addiction; in other words, these disorders tend to co-occur with addiction at rates that suggest significance. As such, there’s a growing body of research dedicated to better understanding why these disorders occur among people suffering from substance use disorders more often than in the population at large. Could it be that there’s some sort of causality? Does an anxiety disorder actually lead a person to become addicted to alcohol or drugs?
Why Do Anxious People Become Addicted?
Before we can answer that question, we must take a moment to better understand why anxiety people and individuals suffering from anxiety disorders turn to substance abuse.
As you’ve surely experienced and would agree, anxiety is an unpleasant emotional state. Nobody enjoys feeling anxious, and the unpleasant nature of anxiety is exacerbated when those feelings of anxiety persist for extended periods of time. While some people who experience persistent anxiety are inclined to seek medical and clinical support to address their anxieties, there are many who choose not to get help, which means that they continue to suffer from untreated, unresolved anxiety disorders. At a certain point, ongoing anxiety — which tends to be episodic, emerging and lingering for days or even weeks at a time before finally subsiding for a while — becomes too much to bear, causing these individuals to begin searching for ways to alleviate their anxieties.
The Cycle of Self-Medication
The term “self-medication” is commonly used in reference to when people use substances or objects to which they have access in an effort to treatment the symptoms that they are experiencing. Though the connotation is often foreboding, self-medication isn’t exclusively a bad thing; for example, when you have a headache and take an over-the-counter medication, you’re self-medicating to treat the headache, using legal and accessible substances in the ways that they’re intended to be used and for the purposes for which the substances were designed. But self-medication becomes much more ominous when it comes to medicating yourself with substances that weren’t meant to be used as medications or weren’t designed to address your specific symptoms.
When a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder can no longer bear the persistent anxiety, he or she might resort to self-medication. Of course, the substances that you use to treat a headache are obviously not going to alleviate anxiety, so a person would naturally turn to substances that are known to be mind-altering: alcohol and drugs. After using these addictive substances frequently over a prolonged period of time, the person is likely to develop physiological dependency, meaning that he or she becomes addicted. So while an anxiety disorder doesn’t make addiction an inevitability, it certainly makes it more likely.
Choose Just Believe Recovery in Carbondale for Your Recovery Needs
Fortunately, an individual suffering from both addiction and an anxiety disorder can achieve stable, lasting recovery by enrolling in our high-quality dual-diagnosis treatment program. Located in Carbondale, PA, Just Believe Recovery is your premiere destination for clinical support and substance abuse treatment. To learn more about our treatment offerings and rehabilitation programs, call Just Believe Recovery today at 888-380-0342