People feel anxiety for a number of reasons, but commonly anxiety arises before moments of uncertainty. Some may experience severe anxiety before taking a test, moving into a new house, before a public speaking engagement, or even simply in a crowd of people. For many people, these feelings are temporary and fleeting.
People that struggle with anxiety disorders do not experience fleeting and temporary feelings, but rather the anxiety may progress over time and affect his/her quality of life. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder may arise seemingly unprovoked, paralyzing the individual. These feelings may not go away once the threat is removed.
Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders and substance use disorders as well. Oftentimes, these illnesses may develop independently or as a direct result of the other disorder. Co-occurring disorders are often hard to diagnose because it is difficult for health care providers to distinguish the difference between symptoms of intoxication and withdrawal and symptoms of anxiety.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several different types of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These different types of anxiety disorders arise for various reasons and in diverse ways. However, anxiety disorders are all fear-based despite the absence of a clear and present danger. Anxiety disorders are broken down into several different categories with each characterized by a variety of symptoms. Types of anxiety disorders include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – GAD is often categorized by consistent worrying, long-lasting symptoms, and intense tension with an obvious cause.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – OCD is an anxiety disorder that is often characterized by repetitive thoughts and behaviors. Individuals struggling with OCD tend to perform obsessive rituals such as hand washing, flipping light switches, counting, stepping, and even cleaning, in order to provide temporary relief from obsessive compulsions.
Panic Disorder – Individuals struggling with panic disorder will experience recurrent episodes of fear while developing physiological symptoms such as increased heartbeat, irregular breathing, dizziness, and panic attacks.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD typically occurs after an individual has been exposed to a traumatic event involving the threat of extreme physical harm. Witnesses to events involving violence, natural disaster, accidents, or war can also experience symptoms of PTSD.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) – SAD is also referred to as social phobia, which is characterized by extreme anxiety is generally normal social settings.
Causes of Anxiety Disorders
According to the Mayo Clinic: “The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.” However, research shows that biological, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to a person’s susceptibility to developing an anxiety disorder.
- Studies indicate that the part of the brain that processes fear is unusually sensitive to stress and unfamiliar situations for individuals with anxiety. Serotonin and cortisol are chemicals within the brain that seem to be connected to feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Genetics and family history also play a major role in the risk factors for anxiety. Approximately 50% of people with panic disorder and 40% of people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder have family histories of anxiety.
- Gender and age may also play a role in the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Women suffer anxiety at twice the rate that men do. Symptoms of OCD and separation anxiety typically develop during youth while panic disorders and social phobias appear in the teenage years.
- History of trauma can also predispose an individual to risk factors associated with developing an anxiety disorder. Experiencing a traumatic event increases the risk of developing an anxiety-related disorder like PTSD.
- Substance abuse disorder can often time lead to a chemical imbalance that may ultimately contribute to anxiety disorders. Anxiety and substance abuse disorders typically occur simultaneously at higher-than-normal rates.
Anxiety and Addiction
The existence of a substance use disorder with an anxiety disorder (or other mental illness) is referred to as dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Here are a few reasons why anxiety may trigger substance abuse disorder and vice versa:
- Self Medicating – One of the most common theories behind the presence of anxiety and substance use disorder is that the individual copes with drugs or alcohol in order to mitigate physical or psychological symptoms of untreated anxiety.
- Biochemical Factors – Anxiety disorders, as well as substance use disorders, may both be directly correlated to chemical imbalances within the brain.
- Effects of Substance Abuse or Withdrawal – The misuse of drugs or alcohol can increase symptoms that resemble anxiety such as agitation, obsessive fears, nervousness, erratic behavior, and insomnia. When withdrawing from drugs or alcohol, individuals may also experience similar symptoms as the brain attempts to recover chemical balance.
Treating Addiction and Anxiety
Many health care facilities focus on treating individuals struggling with co-occurring disorders. In order to achieve the most successful outcome, it is important to treat both conditions simultaneously while utilizing the same treatment plan.
Untreated anxiety disorders may increase the severity of substance abuse disorder while increasing the likelihood of relapse. Substance use disorders also reduce the recovery rates of individuals suffering from anxiety and increase the suicide risk of patients with panic disorder.
It is vital for an individual, suffering from anxiety and substance use disorder, to seek professional help from an integrated treatment program. Integrated treatment programs address not only the addiction or alcoholism but the mental health disorder as well. The solution to anxiety and substance abuse lies in a comprehensive approach to recovery. While therapeutic interventions for anxiety were kept separate from substance abuse treatment, research shows that the most effective way to help individuals with co-occurring disorders is to provide integrated services that address both conditions simultaneously.
Agape Wellness has a fantastic team of licensed mental health, licensed clinical social workers and substance abuse counselors that provide a comprehensive dual diagnosis program within our Agape Wellness model. We know that these poor outcomes result as much from these separate and contradictory systems of care as from the diagnoses themselves. In order to help such individuals, it’s important to seek out integrative treatment —a place where one can receive care for both their addiction and mental illness at the same time in one, stable setting. This means approaching both illnesses as chronic, relapsing conditions that require long-term support.