Anxiety disorder and addiction

Understanding the complex relationship between anxiety disorders and addiction is vital for providing compassionate and effective support to those affected. These conditions can intertwine and amplify each other, making it difficult to deal with. If you are currently dealing with an anxiety disorder and addiction, it is essential to continue reading to discover strategies for managing and treating your conditions. By expanding your knowledge, you can take proactive steps towards healing and improving your well-being.

Anxiety and addiction -man with anxiety

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are complex mental health conditions that affect many individuals worldwide. What sets anxiety disorders apart from normal anxiety is the chronic and excessive nature of the symptoms. These symptoms can include;

  • Excessive and persistent worry or fear.
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Breathing difficulties

Please note that these symptoms can change depending on the specific type of anxiety disorder an individual may have

While it’s normal to feel anxious or fearful in certain situations, such as before a job interview or during a stressful event, anxiety disorders involve a constant state of heightened anxiety that persists for extended periods. These anxious feelings may even be present when there is no immediate threat or apparent reason for concern, leading to interference with daily functioning, relationships, school or work.

Why do anxiety disorders and addiction co-occur so frequently?

According to research, anxiety disorders commonly co-occur with substance use disorders, with a 12-month prevalence rate of comorbidity ranging from 33% to 45%, but why is this?

While anxiety can lead individuals to seek relief through substances or addictive behaviours, addiction can also exacerbate anxiety symptoms. It is a dynamic interplay where each condition can influence and impact the other, creating a challenging cycle to break.

By understanding the intertwined nature of anxiety disorders and addiction, you can receive the necessary support to break free from the cycle, promoting lasting recovery and improved well-being.

What types of anxiety disorders commonly co-occur with addiction?

Several types of anxiety disorders can commonly co-occur with addiction, otherwise known as dual diagnosis. Some common anxiety disorders that are frequently seen alongside addiction include:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and addiction…

GAD involves excessive and persistent worry about various aspects of life, such as health, work, finances or relationships. Individuals with GAD often struggle to control their worries and may experience physical symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Studies have shown that individuals with GAD are more likely to turn to substance abuse to cope with the condition’s stressors, which could potentially lead to addiction.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and addiction…

SAD is characterised by an intense fear of social situations and a constant worry about being judged or humiliated by others. One study that focused on alcohol use disorder and SAD found that nearly 80% of participants reported that they had no alcohol dependency before they were diagnosed with SAD. This could potentially show that the participants were using alcohol as a coping mechanism which then led to an alcohol dependency.

Anxiety and addiction - social anxiety disorder

Panic Disorder (PA) and addiction…

PA involves recurring panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and a sense of impending doom. Individuals with panic disorder often fear experiencing another panic attack and may turn to self medicating through potentially addictive means to avoid triggering situations. This is made apparent by research that suggests around 25% of individuals seeking treatment for panic disorder have a previous history of alcohol dependence.

What came first; the anxiety disorder or the addiction?

Determining whether the anxiety disorder or the addiction came first is often challenging, creating a ‘chicken or the egg’ paradox. However, examining each scenario sheds light on both conditions.

Anxiety disorder leading to addiction…

Individuals with anxiety may be more susceptible to addiction due to reasons such as;

    • Self-medication: Some individuals may use substances (such as drugs or alcohol) or participate in addictive behaviours (like gambling) to alleviate their anxiety symptoms. Although these avenues may provide temporary relief, participating in them frequently leads to a higher risk of developing an addiction.

Neurobiological factors: There may be shared neurobiological vulnerabilities between anxiety and addiction. Both conditions can involve dysregulation of brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which play a role in mood regulation and reward pathways. For example, suppose an individual with an anxiety disorder has an imbalance in serotonin. In that case, this can increase their vulnerability to seek substances or engage in addictive behaviours to restore a sense of balance or pleasure in the brain.

Environmental factors: Environmental factors, such as stressful life events or a history of trauma, can contribute to anxiety disorders and addiction. These factors can increase the likelihood of using substances or engaging in addictive behaviours to cope with stress or trauma.

Addiction leading to anxiety disorder…

On the other hand, individuals with addictions may be more susceptible to developing anxiety disorders due to:

    • Withdrawal and Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): During withdrawal from addictive substances, individuals may experience intense anxiety symptoms as part of the withdrawal process. These symptoms can persist even after the acute withdrawal phase, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), potentially leading to anxiety disorders.

Psychological and environmental factors: Addiction can lead to various psychological and environmental stressors, such as financial difficulties, relationship hurdles, legal issues and social isolation. These stressors can contribute to the development or exacerbation of anxiety disorders.

Fear and worry: Addiction can cause individuals to worry about their ability to obtain or use the substance, leading to increased fear and anxiety. This can result in a vicious cycle of substance abuse and anxiety, with the addiction fueling the worry and the worry fueling the addiction. Breaking this cycle often requires professional help and support.

Whether anxiety precedes addiction or vice versa, the important aspect is recognising and addressing both one after the other in treatment. Researchers have suggested considering the readiness of each individual to make changes in their presenting disorders. For example, If you show a greater readiness to address your addiction than your anxiety disorder/s, starting addiction treatment first is recommended. Once you are stable with your primary condition, the secondary condition can be treated.

So how can Recovery Lighthouse help with treatment?

How can Recovery Lighthouse help those with anxiety disorders and addictions?

Recovery Lighthouse primarily specialises in addiction rehab treatment, meaning we do not offer services specifically for anxiety disorders. Nevertheless, the therapeutic methods we use in our treatment programme can also benefit you if you’re dealing with a dual diagnosed anxiety disorder and addiction.

Here is what we offer:

    • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): This therapy combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques. It teaches you skills to regulate emotions, tolerate distress and improve interpersonal relationships. The therapy can help you to cope with anxiety, manage cravings and reduce impulsive behaviours associated with addiction.

Group therapy: Group therapy combines expert guidance with peer support, creating a powerful therapeutic experience for those with anxiety and addiction. It provides a supportive environment, a sense of belonging and reduces feelings of isolation, symptoms commonly found with anxiety disorders and addiction.

One-to-one therapy: This therapy is beneficial for individuals with a dual diagnosis of anxiety disorder and addiction because it provides personalised treatment, fosters trust and allows for a dual focus on addressing both the anxiety disorder and addiction concurrently.

If you’re dealing with anxiety disorder and addiction, holistic therapies can be a valuable support source. These therapies take a comprehensive approach, considering your mind, body and spirit. They promote your overall well-being, reduce stress and facilitate emotional healing, which is exactly why we have included holistic therapies in our treatment programme.

By engaging in Recovery Lighthouses’ holistic therapies, you’ll gain essential tools and coping strategies to manage your anxiety and work towards recovery from addiction effectively.

The holistic therapies that Lighthouse Recovery offers are as follows:

  • Art therapy
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Anxiety and addiction - art therapy

What’s next?

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and addiction, it’s essential to take action and seek help. Remember, there is hope and there is help available. Get in contract with Recovery Lighthouse today on 02037339983. One of our team of professionals will help guide you on what to do next.