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Cheerful college students studying together for next exam.Everyone experiences normal levels of anxiety on a daily basis. Stress from the day’s events can build up and leave people feeling anxious or worried. However, when feelings of anxiousness persist and individuals do not know how to cope with stressful moments, it can often lead to an anxiety disorder. Simultaneously, people struggling with addiction often feel intense levels of worry and fear from life’s difficult moments and may use drugs as a way of coping. Drugs and alcohol can heighten an individual’s thoughts and emotions and without an effective recovery plan, can lead to lifelong addiction.

Co-occurring disorders are diagnosed when individuals suffer from a mental illness, such as anxiety disorder, and addiction. Using drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication can have extremely debilitating effects on the user.

Over 40 million people in the United States are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders have become the most common mental illness in the United States and can be extremely dangerous when coupled with substance abuse. The urgency toward understanding the signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders must be recognized in order for individuals to seek effective treatment and reach their full potential.

Causes and Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can be caused by a multitude of social and environmental factors. If mental illness runs in the family, individuals have an increased likelihood that they will also be diagnosed with a mental health related disorder. Additionally, individuals who experience high levels of stress from work and familial relationships or who have experienced a traumatic event may be more vulnerable to being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are the key types and symptoms of anxiety disorders:[1]

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

When people are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, it becomes very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the disorder. The following symptoms become long lasting feelings if individuals do not seek effective treatment:

  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Unable to calm down after feeling wound up
  • Irritability
  • Having difficulty staying on task or completing responsibilities
  • Intense feelings of anxiousness and worry
  • Difficulty controlling heightened emotions
  • Having sleep problems that may include restlessness or insomnia

Panic Disorder

Individuals diagnosed with a panic disorder experience panic attacks that include an increased heart and breathing rate, a choking sensation, uncontrollable shaking, shortness of breath, and an overwhelming feeling of drowning. The following are key characteristics of panic disorder:

  • Frequent panic attacks that are caused by intense fear
  • Inability to control panic attacks
  • Worrying about the next panic attack
  • Avoidance of people and places that may cause panic attacks

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed when individuals experience intense levels of fear, judgment, or rejection when in social environments or when interacting with peers. The following are common symptoms of SAD:

  • Feeling low-levels of self-esteem when with other people
  • Feelings of anxiousness when communicating or being with others
  • Worrying about the judgement of others
  • Avoiding places with many people
  • Difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder in which chronic fear and anxiety persist due to emotionally disturbing or painful events. Dangerous or devastating events that have elicited high amounts of fear, pain, or anxiety can cause recurring flashbacks and disturbing memories that interfere with a person’s daily life activities.

To cope with life’s difficulties, and to lessen the pain felt from a traumatic experience, some people turn to drugs as a way of escaping from the painful memories. Persistent use of drugs can cause individuals to become chemically and psychologically dependent and lead to an addiction.

Anxiety and Addiction

Research studies have shown that 10-20% of anxiety disorder patients abuse alcohol or other drugs and 10-40% of alcoholics have a panic-related disorder. Additionally, “the majority of patients with both an anxiety and alcohol disorder report that anxiety problems preceded alcohol problems.”

To escape from the overwhelming distress anxiety causes, many individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their psychological and physical problems. Using drugs and alcohol as a way of battling the effects of an anxiety disorder may actually intensify the anxiety disorder and make it more difficult to recover in the long run.

The symptoms of anxiety disorders are long-lasting and interfere with a person’s ability to have meaningful relationships and complete home and work responsibilities. The heightened levels of worry and fear can cause people to withdraw from once previously enjoyed activities and spiral into a vicious cycle of addiction. The negative thoughts and behaviors associated with anxiety and addiction can have devastating health consequences on people who are struggling.

People suffering from anxiety and addiction may deny that they have a co-occurring disorder. It is important to recognize the signs of anxiety and addiction to help individuals recover from denial and commit to a treatment program. When individuals become mindful of the present moment and learn to react to difficult situations in a productive way, they will be able to overcome their co-occurring disorder.

Hope for Co-occurring Disorders

Establishing a strong spiritual foundation for co-occurring disorders will help individuals restore their faith in themselves and in God. With a multitude of comprehensive program options tailored to fit every person’s needs, Covenant Hills provides a safe environment for recovery. Individuals will learn how to use relaxation techniques and coping strategies learned through psychotherapy to overcome both anxiety and addiction. The drug detoxification process, researched based techniques used in therapy, and aftercare program options help individuals establish purpose back into their lives to avoid a relapse.
At Covenant Hills Treatment in Orange County, California and in San Antonio, Texas, clients work with pastors, therapists, and counselors who are professionally trained to implement a Christian-based treatment program. They help individuals connect to a larger faith community and support the process of finding purpose again in one’s life beyond this co-occurring diagnosis.

We care, and we can help. Call us today at (888) 662-2873 to speak with an addiction treatment specialist and receive a free assessment.