Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and Substance Use

You are curled up in a little ball on the floor, shaking inside and out as a wave of anxiety washes over you. You are afraid and do not know how to handle the situation, so you grab a bottle of alcohol, hoping it will help you relax. One bottle turns into two and two turns to three, and the next thing you know, you are doing it all over again the next day when a new wave of anxiety hits you.

Clinical anxiety is a feeling of nervousness or fear about a situation. It is your body’s stress response, and it is perfectly normal to experience it. Still, if it becomes debilitating and frequently occurs for more than six months, you can be diagnosed with anxiety. Having an anxiety disorder can be debilitating, halting you from going to work, social activities, or seeing your family.

An anxiety disorder can develop from a different range of things like your family history, trauma, substance use, exposure to stress, and already having other mental illnesses. There are four types of anxiety: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can feel anxiety, both psychologically and physically. Symptoms can look like anything from isolating yourself, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, controlling things, extreme fear, self-medicating, insomnia, trembling, dizziness. Paralyzing fear is a very real thing to people with anxiety.

Self-medicating your anxiety with alcohol or other substances can become a vicious cycle. Maybe the substance gives you a little bit of relief. Still, your substance use can actually cause you more anxiety when the substance effects subside. Most substances actually worsen your psychological state, making your brain function even more poorly. You become dependent on the substance while worsening your anxiety.

When you combine mental illness such as anxiety with substance abuse, that is called a dual-diagnosis. Individuals with anxiety are twice as likely to abuse a substance than someone without and can make your substance abuse even harder to break free from. When you are experiencing anxiety with a substance problem, it is essential that when you enter treatment that they treat both conditions. If you do not address both conditions, you are at a higher risk of relapse.

Treatment for these conditions include detox, inpatient and outpatient stays, counseling, therapy, and aftercare. Anxiety can be treated with prescription drugs, but if you are already abusing substances along with your anxiety, you are typically referred to therapy instead. This helps to avoid abusing prescription drugs on top of your other substances you are trying to get clean from.

A few types of therapies that could be used for your anxiety are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). CBT teaches you how to notice and change self-destructive thoughts and how to cope with stressful situations. EMDR tracks your eye movement and helps you to move past your traumas by forming new connections with your triggering memories.

Treating both your substance use and your anxiety at the same time is key to recovery. When you fail to manage your mental disorders when you treat your substances you have a higher chance of relapse. This is because your mental disorder now has a connection with a substance. When your anxiety is triggered, it makes for more withdrawal symptoms than it would be from your substance alone.

It can often be hard to determine if your substance use caused your anxiety or your anxiety caused your substance use. Sometimes these disorders can occur at the same time without affecting the other, but this is uncommon. In fact, “anxiety disorders predate substance use disorders in at least 75% of cases.” This means that you typically already had an anxiety disorder, and that put you at a higher risk of substance use.

Since both of the conditions of anxiety and substance use can make your symptoms worse, it can feel like it is tough to get out of this black hole you are being sucked into. You do not have to live in fear anymore. All of your conditions can be professionally treated, and you can begin to enjoy your life without substances and without anxiety.

Steps Recovery Centers are staffed by top medical and clinical professionals. You’ll receive a level of care that uses state-of-the-art medical protocols, evidence-based treatments, therapy, and best practices. Our clinicians understand that substance use disorders are often symptomatic of an underlying trauma or mental health issues. We want to understand the complex factors that drive addictive and compulsive behaviors. Our staff members work with individuals on developing the insight, strategies, and skills it takes to address co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis).

Dual-diagnosis addictions require specialized treatment. Unsure of what services would be the best fit for you? Call Steps Recovery Centers today – 385-250-1701– to talk with one of our trained clinicians. With levels of care from outpatient to residential, we can meet you where you are and help boost your journey to recovery.

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