How do anxiety and addiction relate?
Addiction and anxiety often go hand in hand because they are regulated by the limbic system. The limbic system is in the center of addiction, as well as mood and rage. Beyond this physiological connection, however, the relationship between anxiety and addiction remains somewhat ambiguous. According to this recent article, addiction is “a disease that often surfaces with some kind of co-occurring mental disorder, and most often anxiety is one of them.”
Anxiety is a co-occurring disorder that makes addiction recovery particularly tricky. Unlike other co-occurring disorders, anxiety and addiction seem to have a generally symbiotic relationship. Outside of case by case basis, it’s quite difficult to say whether anxiety generally causes addiction or addiction generally causes anxiety. What is clear is that, whatever their origins, and whichever one feeds the other, anxiety and addiction feed off each other and put the individual in a downward spiral.
Anxiety can often be a trigger for addictive behaviors.
This is not necessarily to say that addiction is a manifestation of anxiety, but rather, when an addictive personality experiences anxiety, they are prone to deal with this anxiety by giving in to addictive behavior. Most of the time the addict may not even be conscious of their anxiety, which makes it even harder to avoid addictive behaviors when anxiety triggers them. This is usually the beginning of the downward spiral.
When anxiety is an addict's trigger, the addiction, in turn, exacerbates the anxiety. When anxiety is treated with drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors, the relief is only temporary. Over time, damage is done to the symptoms in the body that help relieve anxiety naturally. Thus, the cycle of self-medication ensues, and the downward spiral begins. Trouble sleeping, feelings of panic and fear, and an inability to be still or calm are psychological symptoms that anxiety and addiction share in common. Physical symptoms include nausea, muscle tension, and cold or sweaty hands.
Successful Recovery: breaking the downward spiral
Hyper-anxiety can be a dangerous symptom of withdrawal when an addict has a co-occurring disorder. Sometimes it can lead to seizures as a result of excessive brain activity. If an addict enters addiction rehabilitation treatment without their anxiety being carefully taken into consideration, the result can be disasterous. Instead of jumping head first into recovery, it’s important that the addict with a co-occurring disorder seeks careful treatment that is tempered with anxiety treatment as well. Dual-diagnosis and co-occurring disorder treatment is readily available in the addiction recovery industry, and is key to a successful recovery. Proper help can relieve the addict of things that will prevent them from moving into a healthy life, and keep their addiction under control for the long run.
Staying clean in recovery
Early sober life can be incredibly uncomfortable for any addict, but especially for one with a co-occurring anxiety disorder. It might be necessary for the addict to seek alternative anxiety treatment options like cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapeutic massage, and support groups, as many anxiety medications will be off the table due to potential cross-addictive properties. If anxiety medication is a necessity, there are non-addictive, though less potent options available.
In addition to alternative treatment options, much of the responsibility of reducing stress will lie in the addict’s own hands. Relaxation and meditation, new hobbies, and immersive exercise can all be very helpful in helping an addict to stay sober while reducing stress and anxiety. Whatever the addict’s choice of personal therapy, it’s important that these activities are part of a well-organized regimen that will help them to stay sober and develop the skills they need to resist urges automatically.
Reach Out Recovery Exclusive by Andy Andersen