Anxiety disorders are a group of nearly a dozen mental health conditions that produce symptoms…
Treating Anxiety and Avoiding Addiction
A dual diagnosis of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder is not uncommon. People with undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate. Conversely, someone who abuses substances may worsen or cause symptoms of a mental illness to set in that otherwise would have remained dormant or under control.
One of the most common mental health issues to co-occur with substance abuse problems is anxiety. Close to 20 percent of people who struggle with anxiety or another mood disorder like depression also engage in some degree of substance abuse. One important way that this co-occurrence could be avoided is for doctors to treat anxiety without medication. Some of the drugs used for anxiety disorders are, in themselves, addictive.
Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse
While some level of anxiety is a normal and natural response to stress, some people are excessively anxious. An anxiety disorder occurs when the level of anxiety a person experiences begins to negatively impact his or her life. Those with an anxiety disorder can’t control their anxious feelings. Their anxiety stops them from engaging in certain activities and may even cause physical symptoms.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. Having any one of these disorders may lead a person to abuse drugs or alcohol, which may end up as an addiction. No matter how the cycle begins, it is a vicious one. Anxiety disorders can lead a person to drink or drinking may cause anxiety. One feeds the other. Without treatment, the cycle can cause real damage.
Sometimes it is the treatment of the anxiety disorder that leads to substance abuse and addiction. Anxiety disorders are often treated with a class of prescription medications called benzodiazepines. These drugs induce relaxation and have the potential to treat anxiety, but they are also addictive. It is not uncommon for a patient being treated in this way to develop a substance use disorder.
Treating Anxiety Without Medication
Too often patients with anxiety are given medication as a quick fix. Instead of going through therapy to learn coping mechanisms for situations that cause anxiety, many patients are just prescribed benzodiazepines. While medications are a useful tool, many therapists and psychologists agree that drugs should not be the only solution to the problem of anxiety. When patients work through therapy, they learn techniques – like muscle relaxation, guided imagery and mindfulness – that help them deal with stress and anxiety without resorting to medication. By not relying on medication alone, caregivers can reduce the incidence of addiction in people with anxiety disorders.
One of the most commonly used types of therapy, and one that can help patients with anxiety, is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. Research shows that it is an effective way to reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders. CBT involves analyzing the negative thoughts that lead to anxiety and learning to alter the resulting behaviors. It helps patients to be aware of how they think and react and how this contributes to their anxiety. It also helps them learn to change those thoughts and reactions.
Anxiety disorders are common and they affect millions of people. Addiction also affects millions of people, and the two problems often occur together. When anxiety is treated effectively, with hard work put into therapy, patients can learn to cope with negative thoughts and feelings without turning to drugs or alcohol.