Of those diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, 20% of these individuals also have a substance abuse disorder. This figure is estimated by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Being that the symptoms of anxiety may be similar to alcoholism or drug addiction, it can be difficult to tell them apart.
Difficulties such as health, financial, legal, and relationship can even be associated with substance abuse which can make an individual’s anxiety increase. The side effects of alcoholism or drug addictions resemble the symptoms of anxiety and vice versa, it again is very difficult to tell the difference between which is what, initially. Especially on a surface level.
Effects of Drug Use on Anxiety Symptoms
What impacts the psychological symptoms of anxiety largely are substances, especially when there is substance abuse involved. When there is constant substance abuse and usage of alcohol for a duration of any length of time, the person’s body can develop a tolerance to the substance. In doing so, they may need to increase the substance in order to get a safe experience of the effects as before. This ends up becoming a cycle that turns into an addiction that can be very difficult to treat.
Those who have both substance abuse disorders and anxiety disorders tend to have these struggles developed separately. Though with the combination of the two it can be an enormous burden on a person’s physical and mental health overall.
Anxiety and Alcohol
It can be easily tempting to have a glass or bottle of alcohol to calm down your nerves. Especially after dealing with a stressful day or coming out of a tough situation. Though drinking alcohol, in very large amounts in the long-term, will eventually increase your alcohol-induced anxiety. Your body will automatically adjust to the amount of the alcohol it is given and it will soon require more and more for it to achieve the same effect.
If a person decides to quit drinking alcohol altogether, they can also have negative symptoms they will begin to experience which is withdrawal. The most common symptom is anxiety.
Having an occasional alcoholic drink to relax isn’t the worst you can do. Though, once you start with the occasional alcohol drinking, it is very easy to build a tolerance to alcohol. As a result, it can make a person begin to drink more heavily and stress more difficult to deal with.
Drinking alcohol does have a chemical effect on people’s brains, which creates an imbalance. It occurs due to consistent heavy alcohol use. This usage creates a lot of mental struggles for the person and one of those struggles mentally is anxiety. Prolonged drinking may cause actual anxiety in some instances for some people, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Marijuana and Anxiety
Generalized anxiety disorder is very much connected and associated with Marijuana. Commonly worried or anxious about their life and the circumstances surrounding them. This would also include relationships as well. A person may even rely on marijuana to help reduce these stressful feelings in order to cope. It may help them to temporarily relax for the time being over their stressful feelings for a day or even over a stressful situation.
Though the relief is only temporary, the euphoria will eventually dissolve. The symptoms of anxiety will come right back to the person. Using marijuana has a person believe they feel “normal” temporarily, and therefore they may use the substance even more often in order to achieve their suppression of feeling stressed out. However, constant marijuana usage can cause a reliance on the substance and not having harmony within oneself if they’re without marijuana. Being without marijuana they cannot tolerate experiencing negative feelings, which can create a desire to use more marijuana or lead to using stronger, more potent addictive substances, such as stimulants or opioids.
Not being able to tolerate or control your negative feelings while sober can easily affect your ability to engage in school, work, jobs, and relationships.
Stimulants and Anxiety
Those with anxiety may turn to stimulants, yet stimulants are not helpful for those who are living with anxiety. Stimulants can create or worsen anxiety as a side effect overall. Many children who have been prescribed stimulants for their attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) go on to develop an anxiety disorder as a result of stimulant usage.
Stimulant usage will excite the central nervous system, and it will cause it to release certain chemicals to send quick messages through your nerves and body. The releasement of these chemicals and the faster messaging can lead to an increase in anxious feelings.
Some use stimulants to help them stay up late at night, especially college students. Including ones that do have anxiety. They do this to help them get additional studying time or to even prevent drowsiness during exams, class work, or even at their jobs. The usage of stimulants can become addictive for them and it can quickly lead to dependence for them to be able to function normally day to day. This habit creates a lot more additional stress by stimulating more anxiety symptoms within a person, which ultimately creates a vicious cycle.
Drug Abuse as a Cause of Anxiety
You are at a significantly increased risk of developing an addiction if you struggle with anxiety due to the symptoms of mental illness overall. When unwanted symptoms increase and develop, those who have anxiety have a higher likelihood to turn to substances to self-medicate. This makes them produce a false sense of happiness that is not lasting or solves any of their problems but instead makes their problems worse.
When they become sober, especially after becoming dependent on alcohol and/or drugs, they can experience a high level of anxiety. This can lead a person who may have never had prior anxiety to suddenly have major drug-induced or withdrawal-related anxiety symptoms they experience.
If they continue to use the substances it can worsen the anxiety overall and even change the connections in the brain as well. A person can develop a substance-induced anxiety disorder if they do not seek treatment, and stop using.
Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
Drugs and alcohol do very easily mask the symptoms of anxiety very well. This makes it increasingly easy for anxiety disorders to go undiagnosed for so long when substance abuse is involved.
It is very common for people to be completely unaware that they even have a type of anxiety disorder, even if they use substances including alcohol whenever stressed. Most people don’t make the connection that drinking on a regular basis to relax, and might not consider their behavior as a symptom of a mental health condition. Though if they are open to understanding that they do in fact have a treatable mental health disorder, it can actually be a huge relief for them and their life. They have been self-medicating a stressful one through alcohol for so long and it hasn’t been all that productive or helpful.
Self-medicating is regularly using a substance in an attempt to help escape and deal with symptoms of some kind of mental health illness or disorder. Which would also include an anxiety disorder, and in many cases it is anxiety. When treating co-occurring disorders, which is both an addiction disorder and a mental health disorder both need to be a priority during treatment. This is in order for treatment to be a success!
Treating Anxiety and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders
Drugs and alcohol change the brain’s connections and chemistry, and in doing so it can cause symptoms of anxiety in people with substance abuse disorder. Even then, people in general who have untreated mental health illnesses tend to turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a way to self-medicate their symptoms in order to help cope.
With co-occurring disorders, substance abuse disorders and anxiety disorders often complicate each other. If only one disorder is treated and the other one is overlooked accidentally or is not treated at all recovery will not be a success.
The only way to effectively be a success in recovery from substance abuse and manage your mental health disorder is to treat both disorders at once. A treatment plan that is specific to you and both co-occurring disorders. It’s the most beneficial and more guaranteed success.
If you or a loved one needs help with recovery and are ready to begin a life of sobriety Riverwalk is ready to help! We have admission coordinators that are happy to answer your questions and discuss with you all the treatment options we have available including the therapies we offer at our treatment center, located in Chattanooga, TN.
With our approach, we believe in putting our patients in the center of everything we do. We believe strongly in evidence-based treatment methods that help guarantee success, for both mental health and addiction treatment recovery.
Riverwalk Recovery is also a proud member of the Harmony Recovery Group Family.