Living Mindfully: Addiction and Anxiety

Anxiety and addictionAs we’ve discussed throughout this series, addiction magnifies mental health disorders. Substance abuse escalates a person’s pre-existing thoughts and emotions. If someone is already predisposed to a mental health disorder, addiction may cause the symptoms of that disorder to feel even more dismal or severe.

While depression makes someone feel lethargic, anxiety makes someone feel tense and restless. Anxiety hinders people’s ability to concentrate, plaguing them with extreme feelings of worry, stress, and fear. The following article explains how anxiety interacts with addiction and how anxiety gets addressed during addiction treatment.

Mixing anxiety with substance abuse

When looking at the spectrum of anxiety, common causes include panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, and stress disorders. Sometimes these disorders produce panic attacks—intense moments of overwhelming fear and hopelessness. Panic attacks are typically characterized by palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, chills, numbness, and/or nausea.

Anxiety can vary by magnitude, ranging from a hazy, continual dread to paralyzing fear. People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) excessively worry about every day occurrences, feeling unable to stop stressing about work, relationships, health, money, etc. Someone suffering from GAD typically views their circumstances unrealistically and constantly anticipates tragedy or disaster.

Unfortunately, an addict’s mind may turn to illicit substances to numb or calm their feelings of anxiety, which ultimately produces the opposite long-term effects. Misusing drugs or alcohol can greatly intensify irrational fear. Substance dependence can distort neurological processes that trigger those feelings of fear or worry, which can cause even deeper sensations of doom and hopelessness.

Treating an addict with anxiety

When we treat someone struggling with anxiety, we use cognitive behavioral therapy to address the way that person views themselves and their situation. Cognitive behavioral therapy tackles the negative patterns of thought that a person experiences to change the course of their behavior. We work through how someone thinks and feels to disrupt negativity and shift their thoughts to a more positive direction. Through this process, we help people learn how their thoughts turn into actions.

To manage anxiety, we use different therapeutic exercises to help someone’s mind and body sort out their thinking and actions. One of our exercises is to try out different tapping processes to release those anxious sensations. Picture moments where you might be tapping your foot before an important meeting or a concerning conversation. Someone with high anxiety may find similar relief from tapping a pen or pencil.

Many people find relief from acupressure. These techniques activate key pressure points in the wrist and head. Others may experience relief from massage or listening to music. These exercises help calm someone’s thoughts and correlate better energy into their process.

While some people may need medication, we are cautious in what we prescribe. For example, we would not prescribe Xanax, but we may look into an anti-depressant with known anxiety-reducing properties.

Working toward best outcomes

If you’re considering addiction treatment and suffer from anxiety, the best approach you can take is being an honest reporter to your care team. Being open about your history and what you’re feeling will help your counselors and medical staff treat you through the most helpful, effective means possible.

To continue the conversation about mental health, check out Part I of our Living Mindfully series: Addiction and Depression.

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