woman in striped shirt contemplates anxiety and addiction recovery

How Anxiety Derails Addiction Recovery

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the U.S. Almost 30% of Americans struggle with it at some point in their lives. And if you have an anxiety disorder, research shows you’re two to three times more likely to struggle with substance abuse than the general population. It’s a combination that can greatly complicate treatment, but an anxiety treatment program can help.

Stage 1: Active Addiction

Many people who abuse drugs are unknowingly self-medicating an underlying mental health issue like anxiety. Those with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder appear to be at the highest risk of drug addiction, while people with post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder are typically more prone to alcoholism.

At first, drugs and alcohol may seem to work well to quell anxiety, but in the long term, drugs and alcohol make anxiety worse, not better. This creates a dynamic in which drug use perpetuates anxiety, and increased anxiety prompts further substance abuse.

Stage 2: Withdrawal

Anxiety is a common symptom of drug withdrawal. In addition to feeling bad physically, the reality of the situation sets in. For many, this is the first time they’ve sat with themselves and thought about what’s ahead. All of these feelings contribute to a high risk of people leaving treatment during detox. That’s why detox centers use medication and alternative therapies to make clients as comfortable as possible. If clients give up at this stage, there’s a very high likelihood that they’ll run right back to drugs and alcohol. Even if recovery is wanted and needed, for many people with addictions, there is a very real fear of getting sober. Will they ever feel good again? How will they survive if drugs and alcohol can never be part of their life? This type of future-focused thinking increases anxiety and can be crushing to someone new to recovery. That’s why 12-step programs emphasize taking it “one day at a time” and focusing on the present moment.

Stage 3: Drug Rehab

In drug rehab, people look beneath their drug use to figure out the underlying problem(s) they were trying to medicate. The therapeutic process is powerfully healing, but it also can be anxiety-provoking at times.

Some of the focuses of treatment include:

  • Learning how to manage anxiety
  • Developing healthy coping mechanisms
  • Understanding triggers and stressors
  • Relearning how to live without drugs or alcohol

If anxiety is present, it’s important that treatment professionals address this issue so that the person in recovery can move forward in their journey.

Stage 4: Post-Treatment 

After finishing rehab, one of the biggest anxiety inducers is the threat of relapse. For the 40% to 60% of people who slip at least once, there’s a great deal of anxiety around admitting to themselves and their loved ones that they need help again.

Continued anxiety management is an essential part of post-treatment care, especially in the first few months. People should be encouraged to continue taking anxiety medications (if applicable) and working with mental health professionals. They also need a support system that understands the anxiety they are feeling and can provide the necessary encouragement to stay sober.

How an Anxiety Treatment Program Can Help Those in Addiction Recovery

Treatment is more complex for those who have both an anxiety disorder and a substance use disorder. For example, studies have shown that people with anxiety disorders tend to have more severe withdrawal symptoms and higher relapse rates. Similarly, studies have shown that people who abuse drugs have decreased recovery rates from generalized anxiety disorder and an increased risk of suicide for those with panic disorder. These findings underscore the importance of treatment that addresses both addiction and anxiety at the same time.

A strong body of research supports using cognitive-behavioral therapy for addiction to help people change their thought and behavior patterns. However, some people with co-occurring anxiety may find that talk therapy leaves them feeling overly exposed and vulnerable, which fuels their need to self-medicate with drugs. These individuals may benefit from alternative approaches like art therapy or journaling. Certain medications, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), also have shown promise in treating anxiety disorders and addiction.

For many, anxiety isn’t an issue that comes up once and is resolved for good. Anxiety and other co-occurring mental health disorders can derail recovery at various stages in the process. This means a special type of treatment is needed—one that spots and manages anxiety before it poses a threat to treatment and recovery.

Reach Out to Promises Behavioral Health Today

If anxiety is interfering with your or a loved one’s efforts to achieve and maintain sobriety, the anxiety treatment professionals at Promises Behavioral Health can help. Our anxiety treatment programs are tailored to meet the individual needs of each client, taking into account their unique circumstances and challenges. Call us today at 844.875.5609 for more information about how we can help.

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