Although anxiety has become a common term used to describe a variety of conditions and symptoms, at its core, anxiety is an emotion. It’s that feeling of uneasiness you get typically when you’re in a situation where you’re not sure about the outcome. For example, when you have to take an exam or go to a job interview. It’s how our bodies respond to the stress that results from an unfamiliar and, therefore, potentially dangerous situation.
Up to a certain level, anxiety is a healthy response because it motivates us to stay alert and prepare. However, people with an anxiety disorder experience much higher levels of anxiety that can interfere with their ability to function in everyday life. They feel a constant, overwhelming, and debilitating fear that leads them to worry disproportionately about specific situations or things or about life in general.
Types & Causes
It’s not at all unusual to experience short episodes of anxiety from time to time, but clinically diagnosed anxiety is much more intense and frequent.
Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and phobias.
The most common anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder, affecting around 6% of the population. Someone with GAD cannot stop worrying even if rationally they know it’s not likely that what they worry about will happen. They anticipate the worst outcomes in a wide range of situations that involve their health, family, career, financial situation, and the world in general. It’s hard for them to identify their anxiety triggers since their life is filled with constant tension.
Although people with GAD can often control their symptoms well enough so they can seem ok on the outside, on the inside, they find it very hard to relax since they’re bombarded with chaotic thought patterns that cause them stress and problems focusing.
It’s important to keep in mind that anxiety is not a character flaw or a weakness. It can result from genetic factors, family history, trauma, or it can be a side-effect of certain medications. It can also stem from changes in the brain produced by prolonged substance abuse.
Anxiety & Addiction
According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people with an anxiety disorder are twice as likely to develop an addiction. This is called a dual diagnosis. It’s so common in part because many will try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, drugs and alcohol cause changes in the brain that intensify the symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Since withdrawal symptoms tend to be worse for people with anxiety, leading to higher rates of relapse, the best option would be dual diagnosis treatment.
Another reason why anxiety and addiction often co-occur is that they’re both linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, such as a low level of serotonin.
Focusing exclusively on the treatment of the addiction doesn’t help with the symptoms of anxiety. At the same time, focusing exclusively on the anxiety disorder can also lead to negative consequence because drugs and alcohol can interfere with the effects of prescription medication. The most effective approach is to treat both conditions simultaneously since they’re intertwined.