Sudie E. Back and Kathleen T. Brady wrote Anxiety Disorders with Comorbid Substance Use Disorders: Diagnostic and Treatment Considerations, in which they discuss generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and substance use disorder (SUD) and the relationship between the two. They cited a recent study in which nearly 6,000 adults stated that GAD was the anxiety disorder most frequently attributed to using substances to overcome the symptomologies associated with anxiety. GAD that is accompanied by other disorders is shown to increase the rate at which people go from first starting to use substances and getting to a point of reliance on them. Furthermore, SUDs that are experienced in conjunction with anxiety disorders have proven to make GAD much harder to overcome and be successful against. In order for many anxiety disorders to be clinically diagnosed, they must be present in an individual for at least six months before they can be considered a disorder. Treatment of anxiety disorders, namely GAD can be quite difficult in those who are more prone to substance use or those who already have SUD. While there are some medications that can be effective, others are generally off-limits due to the addictiveness of the substance. Despite treatment seeming like a difficult thing to obtain, there are ways to get help with the treatment of both disorders. However, one of the most important steps is to understand why those with anxiety feel the need to seek out substance use as a means to quell their anxiety and what can be done in those instances.
Those who have GAD or any other type of disorder involving anxiety know that it can be extremely hard to cope with on a daily basis. Individuals with anxiety often experience symptoms such as feeling fatigued, muscular issues such as tensing or twitching, feelings of being on edge or nervousness, feeling as though they’re in harm’s way, an inability to focus, inability to sleep, feeling week, increased heart rate and breathing pace, along with gastrointestinal issues. In addition to these issues, many individuals experience symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), engaging in repetitive behaviors such as rocking back and forth, flashbacks to various occurrences such as those experienced accompanied with some sort of trauma associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and avoiding situations that may induce anxiety, which can keep someone from being out in the real world because they are afraid about what could happen in any given situation or environment. Since there are so many symptomologies associated with anxiety, it is easy to imagine why someone would want to escape all these feelings, both the mental and the physical. However, it is important to find out why people with anxiety turn to substances in order to assuage their symptoms.
Why is Anxiety Linked to Substance Use?
People often turn to substances to relieve their symptoms associated with anxiety. They believe that various substances will help to calm them down and take their mind off things that are bothering them. No matter the substance of choice, there is the appeal of stepping outside of oneself and being able to feel anything other than what they’re experiencing. Most often, substance use tends to begin as a means of escaping what they’re going through by being utilized as a coping mechanism. Although, it should be noted that this is not a permanent solution, merely a temporary one. For those with anxiety, it is seen as a means to calm nerves and to help them relax. The problem with this type of coping mechanism is that it can have the tendency to make someone’s situation worse than it was, to begin with. Certain individuals experience the adverse side effects of substances, for example, paranoia, which can only heighten anxiety. Others may have impaired judgment, which can also lead to increased symptoms of anxiety, whether in the moment or the next day after trying to remember what they did the night before. While many substances are unfortunately readily available, that does not mean that they are viable options. Not to mention, after having begun using substances, there is the tendency to continue to do so, which can add to problems already being experienced in life. Everyone has a multitude of situations that they are currently experiencing and finding more suitable options for coping with life’s difficulties will not only help people learn how to better overcome obstacles, but it can help them to have fewer problems in the future and to be healthier overall, which is something we all should strive for.
Alternatives for Relieving Anxiety
Rather than looking to substances as a means of escape, facing anxiety head-on and being able to conquer it will lead to much more positive outcomes in the future. First, you must understand what your triggers are. Do you have GAD and simply remain on edge on a seemingly constant basis or do more specific situations trigger your anxiety? Understanding the type of person you are is a great first step, and while it may take time, it will help you, in the long run, to truly know yourself. Once you understand what causes your anxiety, you should try to break down the situations and look for alternatives to help you get through them easier. For example, if having to make phone calls to a doctor’s office for an appointment gives you anxiety, try talking on the phone with friends and family more frequently, then you can maybe three-way the office and know that you have support with you should you begin to feel anxious. Work your way up until you can make those calls alone. Even though they seem like small steps, they are worth taking in order to feel more confident in difficult situations. There are also alternatives such as exercising, getting massages, reading, and drinking tea, among other things. Anything to do with self-care and helping you to be calm and in the right headspace is worth doing. You have to make yourself a priority and take care of yourself first before you can worry about anything or anyone else.
Having anxiety can be hard to deal with and we understand that it can be a hard disorder to navigate life with. While you may have chosen a coping mechanism that you thought would help, it’s okay to find out that maybe it wasn’t the best choice for you. To help you reduce your anxiety and feel your best, call us today at (805)719-7954.