Anxiety and Addiction: How to Overcome Both in Recovery

It’s the middle of summer and everyone around you can’t wait to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, yet you are nervous about stepping foot outside your door. You know you are supposed to go to meetings and raise your hand, plus try to talk to people on the breaks, but you can’t bring yourself to do it and often leave early to avoid conversation. More than anything, you want to go to bed and just fall asleep, but you spend hours staring at the clock unable to shut down your brain and relax.

There are a number of different ways that anxiety can manifest, including specific phobias, extreme eating habits, insomnia, panic, and more. When combined with the emotional ups and downs that come with early recovery, it can make it difficult to stay on track and do all the things you need to do in order to build a new life in sobriety.

The good news is that diagnosis of co-occurring anxiety and addiction disorders is exceptionally common, and as a result, treatment paths to recovery have been well researched and tested. With a treatment plan tailored to meet your needs, it is a possibility to overcome an addiction disorder and learn how to manage an anxiety disorder in a comprehensive addiction treatment program.

Which Came First?

For many people, anxiety symptoms predate their struggle with drugs or alcohol. In fact, many first began using drugs regularly when they found that drinking or using certain substances helped to ease their anxiety without treatment. Others sought medical care for anxiety and were prescribed sedatives like Xanax or Valium and developed a dependency upon their medication.

For others, anxiety symptoms became significant if not overwhelming during their addictive use of substances. This may have been triggered by the type of drug they used. Heavy use of stimulant drugs like crystal meth and other synthetic drugs can often have this effect, or an underlying anxiety disorder may have been exacerbated by drug use.

Whether or not your anxiety symptoms were at the forefront before you developed a substance use disorder, it is important to treat both disorders at the same time. It is impossible to effectively treat only anxiety and ignore a substance use disorder just as it is ineffective to treat an addiction disorder and ignore a co-occurring anxiety disorder. Comprehensive treatment for co-occurring disorders is key to long-term success in recovery.

Is it Treatable?

Depending on the signs of anxiety that are most problematic for you, you may be diagnosed with one of dozens of different anxiety disorders identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), published and updated by the American Psychiatric Association. These disorders have been thoroughly investigated and explored with the goal of finding out why they occur, how they manifest, and what treatments and drugs are most effective and in what combinations for different populations. This means that those who seek treatment at a program that offers research-based therapies and medical interventions will be well supported as they discover what it is they need to heal.

It is important to note that the research bears out the fact that everyone is unique and that no one-two punch of medication and/ or therapy will knock out anxiety completely. Rather, it takes time to gain sustainable stability in recovery, and along the way, treatment plans will shift and change according to changing goals.

    Those seeking treatment for both anxiety and an addiction disorder may:
    • Undergo medical detox as needed.
    • Work on underlying trauma.
    • Address other co-occurring disorders, both medical (e.g., chronic pain, cancer) and psychological.
    • Try different medications that are indicated based on symptoms.
    • Involve family members in couples counseling or family therapy.
    • Create plans for dealing with specific stressors.
    • Learn about lifestyle changes that will help to lower overall levels of stress and anxiety.

Is Your Loved One in Crisis Due to Anxiety and Addiction?

If someone in your family is living with both an anxiety disorder and an addiction disorder, they may not be capable of identifying the issue and/ or reaching out for help. Are you ready to assist them in connecting with an addiction treatment program that can offer them the care for co-occurring disorders that they need?

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