Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Anxiety and substance use disorders are among the most frequent mental health problems in the U.S. The journal Psychiatric Times reports that nearly 29% of people will experience an anxiety disorder at least once in their lifetime, while the lifetime rate for substance use disorders is 14.6%. Anxiety and substance use disorders commonly co-occur, with evidence suggesting that one disorder can often trigger the other. Both of these mental health conditions can be treated simultaneously at drug and alcohol rehab centers.

What Are Co-occurring Disorders?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines co-occurring disorders as the coexistence of both a mental health and substance use disorder and may also be known as a dual diagnosis or comorbidity. About half of people who suffer from a mental illness will also suffer from a substance use disorder at some point in their lives and vice versa, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

When it comes to anxiety disorders specifically, research compiled by the Harvard Review of Psychiatry reveals that nearly 15% of people with anxiety disorders have also suffered from a past-year substance use disorder. At the same time, nearly 18% of people with substance use disorders have also suffered a past-year anxiety disorder — including between 33% and 43% of those who are currently receiving treatment.

How Does Substance Abuse Cause Anxiety?

Chronic use of drugs and alcohol can trigger short- and long-term changes in the brain that increase the risk for various mental health problems. Hallucinations, paranoia, aggression, anxiety, and depression are just some changes that occur in the brain on behalf of substance abuse. This is because drugs and alcohol interfere with brain chemicals, hormones, and pathways in negative ways that contribute to mental illness.

For example, heroin interferes with brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine plays a major role in feelings of motivation and pleasure, while serotonin is responsible for regulating emotions. Deficiencies in these brain chemicals can often increase the risk for anxiety and depression.

How Do Anxiety Disorders Cause Substance Abuse?

Anxiety disorders are characterized by symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, excessive worry, and the inability to sleep. Some who suffer from anxiety disorders will abuse drugs in an effort to cope with or relieve their symptoms, such as using sedatives like alcohol or benzodiazepines to treat insomnia and sleep disorders. Over time, these individuals can become dependent on these substances because they use them regularly in high amounts to self-medicate.

Drugs and alcohol may work to temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety disorders. However, substance abuse carries the risk for more serious problems like dependence and addiction. Many times, substance abuse can worsen anxiety disorders due to the way drugs and alcohol upset the balances of certain brain chemicals and hormones.

What Are Treatments for Co-occurring Disorders?

Many drug rehab centers use an integrated treatment approach to help people recover from co-occurring disorders. Treatment for co-occurring disorders usually combines drug and alcohol detox, pharmacotherapy, and behavioral therapies.

Medical drug detox is the first stage of addiction treatment that helps people recover from drug dependence and withdrawal. During or after drug detox, patients may be prescribed medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms or that treat symptoms of their mental illness. For instance, those who suffer from alcohol addiction and an anxiety disorder may be prescribed benzodiazepines that reduce the risk for alcohol-induced seizures and treat symptoms of the anxiety disorder.

Behavioral therapies for co-occurring disorders may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and assertive community treatment, among many others, says the NIDA. Each of these therapies helps people address the root causes of their substance use disorders and teaches them how to change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to both addiction and anxiety.

Recovering From Co-occurring Disorders at ARC

America’s Rehab Campuses offers medical detox and a range of drug rehab programs that can help you or a loved one safely recover from substance abuse and co-occurring anxiety disorders. Call us today at 833-272-7342 to get started with the treatment process.

1-833-272-7342