Co-Occurring Anxiety and Addiction Treatment

man with addiction to drugs thinking about his life of transgressionsAnxiety disorders are remarkably responsive to treatment. People who get help from qualified mental health specialists can learn how to avoid the situations that can trigger their feelings of nervousness and worry, and they can pick up new skills that can help them to deal with the situations they just can’t avoid.

While anxiety can be treated, only about one-third of those who have anxiety reach out for help, says a report produced by the Medco Research Institute. That means there are many people out there who are trying to handle anxiety alone, and those people might be using drugs and alcohol as treatment tools.

When Addiction and Anxiety Collide

enablingPeople who abuse drugs and alcohol in order to deal with an anxiety issue are, for the most part, using the tools they know about in order to deal with a mental illness they just don’t understand. To them, feelings of nervousness and stress seem to come out of nowhere, and they have no known defense against a rising tide of anxiety.

Drugs and alcohol seem like good solutions, because they act as a damper on escalating feelings of worry. When people start to feel nervous, or they’re heading into a situation in which they’ve experienced nervousness in the past, they can take a hit of dampening drugs and watch those feelings fade away.

This isn’t a smart long-term strategy, however, as continued use of drugs tends to cause a form of brain damage that can make feelings of anxiety much more acute. A therapist writing for Psychology Today explains that ongoing drugs of abuse damage the mechanisms the brain uses in order to dampen feelings of anxiety. When the drugs wear off, a rebound form of anxiety takes hold, and with that brain damage, there’s no way to soothe the feelings without drugs. The two disorders tend to support one another and strengthen one another. It’s very hard to overcome this issue without help.

If left untreated, this is a problem that can worsen. As brain damage continues, those brain cells need larger and larger doses of drugs just to function at a normal rate. Without those drugs, the brain cells can be pushed into feelings of withdrawal, which can feel a lot like anxiety.

During both an anxiety episode and a withdrawal episode, people can feel:

  • Jittery
  • Unable to sleep
  • Frightened
  • Sped up
  • Nervous

In time, people may not be able to separate feelings of anxiety caused by drugs and feelings of nervousness caused by a mental health disorder. To them, they feel the same.

Treatment Specifics

In reality, anxiety disorders and addiction disorders stem from different causes, and they can be effectively separated in a comprehensive treatment program.Behavioral therapy is an important part of the treatment of anxiety, says the American Psychological Association. In this form of therapy, clinicians attempt to help their clients identify the factors that contribute to anxiety, and they learn to manage those factors effectively so they don’t feel ambushed and surprised by fear on a regular basis.In therapy, clinicians attempt to help their clients examine the thoughts that accompany an anxiety episode. These hidden messages that come from deep within the brain can augment a sense of panic, and that can make a minor feeling of worry grow and spread until it’s overwhelming.

Common thought patterns during an anxiety episode might sound like this:

  • I’m dying.
  • I’ll never get out of this.
  • I can’t handle this.
  • My life is in danger.
  • I have no control.

By looking closely at these thoughts and challenging them, clinicians and their patients can get at the root of what an anxiety episode feels like. They can also begin to work on experiments that challenge these statements head on.

For example, those who feel as though they have no control might be taught breathing exercises. Slow and steady breathing tends to result in slow and steady heart rates. When that happens, people might feel less panicked and less worried about impending death. By breathing, these people have control. Therapy can teach them that.Therapy like this can be used in concert with therapies designed for addiction control. People with drug abuse issues may also have mistaken assumptions about their control levels and impending deaths. They might also benefit from the opportunity to step back and examine those thoughts and ideas before they use.

Anti-anxiety medications might play a role for some people, as these therapies can help to correct chemical imbalances inside the brain and provide people with temporary relief, so they can stay focused on their long-term addiction healing goals. But medications aren’t the only additional tools therapy teams might use.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health suggests that anxiety disorders might fade with relaxation training, meditation, and/or biofeedback. All these therapies aim to provide people with tools they can use to understand their body’s physical responses to stress or tools they can use to actually deal with symptoms of stress when they appear. These therapies can be of vital help to people who have always reached for drugs when they felt stress. With these interventions, they’ll have different options at their fingertips when those feelings arise.

Special Considerations

clinical assessmentAnxiety disorder therapy can be remarkably helpful, but there may be some periods of trial and error involved. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that some people with anxiety feel as though they’ve failed at treatment when they don’t see results right away. In reality, some people don’t respond to specific types of therapy, and others need different practitioners in order to see the benefits of therapy. The key is to stay enrolled and to keep working at it. People who remain focused on a solution, rather than relapsing to drugs, tend to have better outcomes.

Sometimes, too, anxiety disorders take a long time to heal. For example, in a study in Psychiatric Times, researchers found that 50-60 percent of people with generalized anxiety disorder responded to anxiety therapy quite quickly, but only about half of these people were in full recovery when the study ended. The rest still had lessons to learn and work to do until they could be considered in complete remission. They may have felt better, but there was still work to be done.

Treatment teams can plan for this by providing long and tapering forms of therapy. The work might begin in an inpatient facility, allowing the person to go through medical detoxification in a safe and secure environment. Then, in inpatient therapy, the person might have the opportunity to work on the addiction and the anxiety at the same time. When the person feels better and in control, the team might transition the person to outpatient care. The person might still be hard at work on the problems, but that person might be living at home. Finally, the person might be living at home with no supervision, but open to heading back to care if problems arise.

Staying in touch with the treatment team like this could be the key to your long-term recovery. And we’d like to offer you that help at the Orlando Recovery Center. We can provide you with comprehensive care for your addiction and your anxiety, and we’ll stay in touch with you after treatment, so we’ll know your recovery is on track. Please call to find out more about the conditions we treat and the admissions process we use. We’re here to help your recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.