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Anxiety, Addiction, and Recovery—What You Need to Know


Anxiety, Addiction, and Recovery—What You Need to Know

Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another, perhaps related to starting a new job, a new school, or when faced with a monumental decision. But for some, anxiety is persistent and increases over time. Someone struggling with anxiety may experience paralyzing fear, irritability, restlessness, and an inability to relax or concentrate. They may experience physical symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, or muscle tension. When these symptoms persist and impact work, school, or relationships with family and friends, it is likely due to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder, with an estimated 31% of adults in the U.S. experiencing an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Some people might try to manage their anxiety by abusing substances, which can set them on a slippery slope towards addiction. Anxiety and addiction can occur together as comorbid conditions, which can complicate recovery for those struggling with both issues. For many, anxiety, addiction, and recovery are intertwined—one can easily impact and influence the other. When someone is suffering comorbid conditions, both the anxiety and the addiction must be treated in order to see real and lasting recovery. 

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety and substance use disorders are among the most common psychiatric illnesses, and the rate at which they co-occur suggests more than a casual connection. Research into the comorbid conditions of mental health and substance use disorders suggests that in such cases, typically the mental health condition develops first, and the substance abuse occurs five to ten years later, on average. This research seems to confirm the widely held belief that substance use develops as a coping mechanism for people attempting to self-medicate their mental health disorder. Substance use may provide temporary relief, but since mental health conditions are chronic, the symptoms return. Unfortunately, as this pattern repeats, addiction can develop.

Unfortunately, the chronic nature of mental health conditions and the addictive nature of the substances often chosen for self-medication leads many who suffer to develop a full-blown substance use disorder. Without treatment to address the underlying mental illness, the addiction creates additional stressors that compound the individual’s physical, psychological, and emotional damage. When the two disorders occur together, they can be significantly harder to overcome—but not impossible.

What You Need to Know About the Anxiety-Addiction-Recovery Connection

When addiction occurs in a person with a mental health disorder, like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, a dual diagnosis is made. It is important to consider professional treatment as soon as possible since a dual diagnosis can create an ongoing challenge to long term recovery. Without treatment for a co-occurring anxiety disorder, addiction relapse is likely. These are some important considerations regarding treatment for anxiety and addiction:

  • While any treatment course for substance use disorder begins with a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, this assessment will be complicated by co-occurring anxiety.
  • Due to the prevalence of anxiety and addiction occurring together, addiction medicine practitioners should always be alert to signs of this and other comorbidities.
  • Because many of the symptoms are nonspecific or overlapping, it can be difficult to definitively make a dual diagnosis. For this reason, diagnosing an underlying anxiety disorder may take time and continual monitoring.
  • Treating addiction without addressing a co-occurring anxiety disorder almost guarantees relapse, but many treatment centers do just that.
  • Not all addiction rehab centers are equipped to handle dual diagnosis treatment. Finding one that is will require some research.
  • Since each person dealing with overlapping anxiety and addictive disorders has unique symptoms and histories, treatment protocols must be customized for their specific needs.
  • Integrated care combines psychiatric and addiction medicine therapies to simultaneously treat both diagnoses. Medication-assisted treatment may be beneficial when used in this capacity.
  • Treatment protocols that emphasize restorative neuroplasticity help to strengthen healthier neural pathways, leading to long-lasting recovery for anxiety and addiction.

A dual diagnosis of anxiety and addiction brings compounded challenges that warrant special consideration in developing an effective treatment plan. Carefully researching potential treatment centers is essential.

Finding the Optimal Treatment for You

Anxiety is a condition that complicates addiction recovery for many people. But this is where your choice of treatment centers can make a significant difference. Particularly in the case of a dual diagnosis, it is necessary to have a customized treatment plan. This plan should be comprehensive enough to meet your needs, but flexible enough to change with you as you recover.

When choosing a treatment facility, ask whether they specialize in integrated care, and question how they address dual diagnoses. Finding a treatment center that will diagnose and treat both addiction and any underlying mental health disorders simultaneously can mean the difference between frustrating relapse cycles and real, lasting recovery. 

If you need help understanding the connection between anxiety, addiction, and recovery, the addiction specialists at New Choices Treatment Centers are ready to help you. Our comprehensive continuum of care offers help for your unique treatment needs and is flexible enough to change with you as you heal. Reach out to us online or by phone at (726) 888-7003 to get the healing started.