When something dangerous is about to take place, or something important is bound to happen within the next few moments, the brain uses anxiety to turn up the heat. All of the senses are heightened, ready to take in new information and react at a moment’s notice to anything new that might appear. Feelings of anxiety can help people avoid a pedestrian crossing the road at an inopportune time, and anxiety might help a politician stay engaged and involved during a crucial debate with an opponent. Anxiety can also develop around changes that are positive. Ditching a terrible job in favor of fulltime self-employment might be thrilling, for example, but it also might cause symptoms of severe anxiety, especially when the monthly bills begin piling up in the family mailbox. Anxiety is designed to function on a basic on/off switch. When a stimulus is there, the anxiety is in place. When the stimulus is gone, the anxiety blows away in the breeze. Unfortunately, some people develop broken anxiety switches, allowing their feelings to stay in place, even when there is no reason at all for those horrible feelings to persist. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 40 million Americans have anxiety disorders like this. Some of these people turn to drugs or alcohol in a desperate attempt to resolve their destructive feelings.

The Lure of Substances

Feeling consistently worried, jumpy or stressed can be simply exhausting. People with anxiety disorders may become so disabled that they simply cannot get through a standard day. Their fear paralyzes them. Substances of abuse might seem to provide some avenue of relief, at least temporarily. Substances like cocaine and heroin might help people with anxiety to fall asleep, and that’s something that they might find extremely difficult to do without help. Other drugs of abuse such as cocaine and methamphetamine might help people with anxiety to feel as though they’re powerful and in control, and this might help the anxious feelings to fade. Unfortunately, people who lean on substances for anxiety control may find that their coping skills cause more harm than help. Substances such as alcohol and cocaine can cause an increase in feelings of anxiety when addicted people attempt to stop taking them. People who use these drugs for anxiety control may find that they’re on an endless roller coaster, using drugs to control anxiety, feeling an increase in anxiety when they try to stop using, and then reverting to drug use once more. It’s no wonder that the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder have a substance abuse disorder. This type of cycle is persistent, and it’s hard to overcome without help.

Breaking the Link

If suddenly stopping the abuse of drugs causes a spike in anxious feelings, it’s reasonable to expect that a tapered or assisted withdrawal from drugs could be a beneficial first step on the road to recovery. That’s just what structured detox programs provide. At the beginning of these programs, experts determine what drugs the person has been taking, and at what dosages, and then develop a reasonable plan, with the assistance of consulting physicians, to help the person get sober without experiencing a spike in anxious feelings. The methods used can vary depending on the drugs the person has been taking.

A few examples:

  • Alcohol addiction: Medications can ease trembling and symptoms of fear and nervousness.
  • Opiate addiction: Medications can soothe physical discomfort associated with withdrawal, and those medications might be used to keep cravings at bay as therapy moves forward.
  • Barbiturate addiction: A slow taper from the medication can allow the body to achieve sobriety naturally, without discomfort.
  • Cocaine addiction: Medications can play a role here as well, allowing the person to feel relaxed and comfortable.
When the detoxification process is over and the person is sober, the real work of long-term recovery begins. In therapy, people can learn how to keep their addictions and their anxious symptoms in check, and gain control of their lives once more.
In an overview of the topic, published in Medscape, the authors suggest that there are anti-anxiety medications that can be helpful for people with addictions, and these medications come with a low abuse potential. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (commonly known as SSRIs) have been proven effective in depression and substance abuse, the authors claim, although some people benefit more than others do, even when they’re both provided with the same therapy. In general, since the risk of abuse still exists and not everyone benefits from the therapy, medications aren’t considered mandatory for all patients with anxiety and substance abuse, and those who do use this therapy are monitored closely by consulting physicians to ensure that the treatment is working as it should.

Therapy Techniques

Anxiety disorders can cause people to spend an inordinate amount of time listening to the voices inside of their heads and believing the messages they hear.

People with anxiety disorders might harbor destructive thoughts such as:

  • I know this will be worse tomorrow.
  • There’s no way I’m going to be able to handle this.
  • Something terrible is about to happen; I can feel it.
  • I’m the only one who knows how bad things really are.
There are multiple therapy types that can be used to treat anxiety disorders, and the therapy type chosen typically depends heavily on the type of anxiety disorder the person has. However, almost all therapy types attempt to challenge these negative thoughts and help people to come up with replacement ideas that are both positive and reassuring. For example, behavioral psychotherapy teaches clients to use breathing techniques when anxiety strikes, replacing the shallow, fast breaths that accompany fear with the slow, deep breaths that come with sleep. The heart rate slows, the muscles relax and the anxiety seems to fade. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might also help people to label their thoughts as destructive and take them apart directly, confronting the destruction instead of masking the pain.

Getting Support

Anxiety disorders can be isolating, especially if people truly believe that there is no one else in the world that is able to understand the issue and provide needed guidance and help when things get bad. Support groups can provide meaningful help. Here, people who have the same issue come together to discuss their coping strategies, personal histories, stories of success and days of despair. Some support groups have an educational component, allowing people to more firmly understand the specific issues they’re facing, while other support groups are strictly supportive, providing emotional help without lessons of any sort. People with anxiety and addictions may benefit from addiction-based support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, or they may benefit from anxiety support groups. Some of these anxiety groups hold meetings in hospitals or health care clinics, while others hold their meetings online. It can take some trial and error to find the right support group. Some meetings are targeted for specific age groups or specific cultural groups, and some meetings just don’t seem like a good fit. There’s no shame in experimenting, going to a few sample meetings of several different groups in order to find the right match. Most groups don’t require registration or attendance fees, so this experimentation is relatively easy.

We Can Help

At Michael’s House, we’ve helped many clients come to terms with both addiction and anxiety, and we’ve developed a tailored approach that allows us to provide just the right treatment at just the right time to help our clients recover. Some spend time in our detoxification center, where they are treated by consulting physicians, and then move on to our inpatient program. Others access help on an outpatient basis. Please contact us directly, and let us get the enrollment process started. We’d like to help you.  

Speak with an Admissions Coordinator 877-345-8494