Everyone struggles with anxiety at some point in their lives. Some will suffer from anxiety disorders that make their lives difficult at all times, whilst others suffer during times of severe stress. With the Covid-19 virus suddenly a very real worry for people all over the globe, anxiety is a serious issue that many people are unsure how to cope with. For those with addictions, this problem is magnified.
For many, substance abuse is a quick ‘cure’ for the uncomfortable feelings brought about by anxiety. In the long run, though, this abuse can actually make the problem much worse, bringing with it a series of other physical and psychological issues.
What Is Anxiety?
According to mental health charity Mind: “Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.”
People suffering with anxiety can experience a range of different symptoms, from low-level worry, faster heart rate and sweating, to more distressing intrusive thoughts and full-blown panic attacks.
The causes of anxiety are wide-ranging, but can include:
- Brain chemistry
- Environmental stresses
- Medical issues
- Substance abuse
The most prominent features of anxiety, commonly found in those struggling with it are:
- An obsessive need to take control
- An excessive need for approval
- Ignoring physical and psychological signs of stress
Anxiety Symptoms And Addiction
It can be hard to manage the physical and psychological reactions that anxiety brings. It can be hard for an individual to recognise a feeling as anxiety, leading them to believe that there is something seriously wrong with them and thus heightening their anxiety symptoms.
In the short term, a sufferer may find that taking drugs or drinking alcohol temporarily ease these symptoms, which in turn makes them turn to substances as a way to cope when they are feeling anxious. However, withdrawal symptoms from drugs or alcohol share a lot of the same markers as anxiety, so people will find that as they sober up the feelings are that much harder to cope with, leading them to reach for the substance once more.
Clearly, this will eventually end up feeding both the addiction and the anxiety, creating a cycle that feels almost impossible to get out of.
What Are The Risk Factors For Anxiety And Addiction?
Whilst there is no scientific correlation between anxiety and addiction, the two issues do share a lot of the same risk factors. Psychologists surmise that this is why there is often comorbidity between the two conditions. These include:
- Trauma and abuse
- A family history of addiction or anxiety disorders
- Interruption at key developmental stages (teenagers who have struggled with addiction are often found to have actually changed the ways in which their brains function
Exercises For Decreasing Anxiety
Whilst it can feel impossible when in the grips of an anxiety attack to pull yourself back out of it, there are a few self-help techniques that many people have found useful. These include:
- Try to keep your thinking in the present. Panicking about the future or obsessing over the past can make it difficult to free yourself of a panic attack.
- Be aware of things that are within your control and which are not. You can only help the things that you can control and should try to stay away from thoughts of what you cannot.
- Learn relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation. A guided meditation could be invaluable during an anxiety attack.
- Try not to criticise yourself, rather think about what things you can change.
Recognising An Anxiety Disorder
An anxiety disorder is much more complex to deal with that anxiety brought on by environmental stresses. If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder it is worth looking into counselling and other forms of professional help that can help you to build coping mechanisms.
The three most common anxiety disorders are:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Symptoms of GAD
- Extreme tiredness and mental fatigue
- Being unable to concentrate
- Sleeplessness or sleeping too much
- Compulsive worrying
- Tense muscles and jaw
Symptoms of Panic Disorder
- Panic attacks
- An inability to cope with feelings of fear, and an overactive fear response
- Obsessive worry about the recurrence of panic attacks
- Avoiding ‘triggers’ for panic attacks such as being in places where you have had attacks before.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
- Discomfort with and unwillingness to interact with or socialise with others
- Worrying about what others think of you
- Avoiding people in general
- Sweating or blushing uncontrollably
- Feelings of nausea when dealing with others or being in public
For those with anxiety, it is very common to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. It is important to recognise when this self-medication has tipped over into addiction, so that you can get help. Some of the signs to look out for include:
- Craving substances whenever you are not using them
- Being unable to stick to limits that you have set for yourself
- Continued usage despite negative consequences
- Continued usage despite emerging health complications
- Planning life around opportunities to drink or use
- Cutting off loved ones who express concern over your substance use
- Getting withdrawal symptoms when not drinking/using
Anxiety And Substance Abuse Treatment
It is important that you see a doctor if you feel that you are suffering from either an anxiety disorder or an addiction. If you are found to be suffering from both then this is known as a co-occurring condition, and you will be treated for both simultaneously. This will help you to cope with the difficult emotions and fears brought up by the individual treatments under the care of professionals.
Cassiobury Court offers a rehabilitation programme that allows you to work on both issues under the care of doctors, therapists and other skilled professionals, as well as working with a group of your peers who can help you to come to terms with your addiction.
To find out more, call Cassiobury Court on 01923 369161, or you can text HELP to 83222.