Anxiety often is comorbid, or co-occurring, in individuals diagnosed with substance use disorders. Having both anxiety and substance use disorder is identified as a dual diagnosis. These disorders have many commonalities and can cause similar issues including:
- Cognitive difficulties – difficulty concentrating impacts an individual’s ability to function, affects decision making, and increases anxiety and may cause individuals to seek substances (i.e., amphetamines) in order to focus and decrease negative symptoms.
- Difficulties in relationships and social interactions – anxiety in social situations can lead to and exacerbate drug use, which ultimately interferes with recovery.
- Sleeping – depression and anxiety typically cause sleep disturbances and substances are sometimes a solution for individuals to sleep through the night and avoid negative thoughts and symptoms. Stimulants and other substances may make issues with sleeping more severe. This then leads to a cycle of poor sleep increased by anxiety and increased substance use to avoid symptoms. The substances then worsen the problem and eventually requires the individual to increase the amount of substances used in order to compensate.
Managing Anxiety and Substance Abuse
In order to manage anxiety, individuals should identify the symptoms they are experiencing. Symptoms commonly associated with anxiety include:
- Excessive worrying – this is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety and is characterized by worrying that is extreme and disproportionate to the events that it is triggered by. Excessive worry generally occurs in response to everyday, normal situations.
- Feelings of agitation – agitation is increased when an individual is anxious, as their sympathetic nervous system ramps up. This causes an increasing pulse, shaky hands, sweaty palms, and dry mouth.
- Restlessness – the feeling of restlessness is often described as being “feeling the urge to move” or being “on edge” and may occur when anxiety peaks.
- Fatigue – feelings of chronic fatigue are possible when anxiety is chronic.
- Difficulty with concentration and memory – anxiety has been shown to interrupt working memory, which is responsible for retaining short term information. This interruption is often the reason individuals experiencing anxiety show a marked decrease in their performance when compared to when their normal functioning.
- Increased muscle tension – experiencing tenseness in the muscles is another common symptom of anxiety. It is not fully known why muscles tense during periods of anxiety, but there is a possibility that anxiety leads to increased muscular tension or that a third factor is causing the anxiety and tension.
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night – having difficulty falling asleep, waking up through the night are the most common sleep problems with individuals suffering from anxiety.
- Panic Attacks – a feeling of intense and overwhelming fear that is debilitating. Panic attacks often include sweating, rapid heartbeat, shaking, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and fear of losing control or dying.
- Avoiding situations with social interaction
- Irrational Fears – irrational fears, or phobias, are identified by extreme anxiety or fear about a situation or object. This feeling can be so severe that it can interfere with an individual’s ability to function normally. Some of the most common phobias include blood-injection-injury phobias, animal phobias, natural environment phobias, and situational phobias
Medications are often prescribed to individuals with anxiety, but they are typically controlled substances that have a high potential for abuse and misuse. Substance abuse treatment centers often allow individuals to engage in therapeutic activities and treatments that can decrease their anxiety without the use of substances.
Some non-drug methods that are shown to decrease anxiety include:
- Exercise (e.g., going for a walk or doing yoga)
- Imagining somewhere peaceful like a forest stream, a waterfall, or the beach
- Engaging in meditation
- Playing with a pet or interacting with animals
- Smelling pleasant scents like lavender, flowers, or citrus
- Engaging in hobbies (e.g., hiking, reading, going out with friends, writing, watching a movie)
If you would like more information regarding treatment for anxiety and substance abuse, please contact us at 833-846-5669. We look forward to helping you and answering any questions or concerns you may have.