Beyond Stressful: Why Anxiety and Addiction Are a Dangerous Combination

Most people experience anxiety from time to time. Many individuals living in the UK, however, experience frequent, unceasing forms of anxiety. These symptoms make it more difficult for some individuals to live fulfilling, productive lives.

According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, more than 8 million cases of anxiety disorders were reported in the UK. Managing anxiety is possible with treatment, but this task becomes significantly more difficult when an anxiety patient is also struggling with drug or alcohol addiction.

Anxiety and addiction are major health risks on their own, and both become considerably more dangerous when co-occurring with another disorder. Data collected by the National Health Services suggest that up to 50 per cent of people facing mental health problems also have a substance use disorder.

Considering that anxiety is the most prevalent mental health problem in the world, it is safe to say that the combination of anxiety and addiction represents a common dual diagnosis.

When Anxiety and Addiction Form a Pair

Anxiety and substance use form a problematic pair for individuals trying to manage both disorders at the same time. It is not unusual for the symptoms of a substance use disorder to exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety. Likewise, those who see relief from their mental health issues via substance abuse will find that their anxiety symptoms grow more unmanageable when they are sober.

This vicious cycle underscores just how dangerous this combination of mental health issues can be. Examples of co-occurring substance use and anxiety disorders include:

  • A post-traumatic stress disorder patient who uses alcohol to lesson psychological trauma and experiences more severe depression symptoms
  • A person with a social phobia uses prescription pills to lessen his or her inhibitions in social settings, but finds that the phobia symptoms get worse when sober
  • An obsessive-compulsive disorder patient begins using marijuana to ease his or her compulsions and develops a new obsession with the physical act of smoking

The Need for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The term “dual diagnosis” refers to any time a patient is afflicted with more than one mental disorder simultaneously. These patients are particularly at risk because the symptoms of one disorder typically interfere with the treatment of the other. Patients dealing with co-occurring anxiety and substance use disorders are a prime example of this phenomenon.

A person with a social phobia, for example, may find it difficult to participate in group therapy for his or her addiction. Similarly, a person who is going through withdrawal symptoms to overcome addiction may be more likely to experience a panic attack and feel the urge to continue using. These scenarios emphasize the need for specialized treatment that addresses the root of both disorders.

Solving Anxiety and Addiction

What’s the best way to treat co-occurring addiction and anxiety? Today, most experts believe that the most effective approach is to treat these conditions simultaneously. That’s why leading treatment facilities hire psychiatric professionals as well as medical doctors to join their staff. With both types of expertise available in house, these treatment centers can develop personalized recovery strategies that address the symptoms of both mental disorders.

Considering the massive overlap of individuals with anxiety disorders and addiction, it would not be surprising if dual diagnosis treatment becomes the default treatment approach for these co-occurring disorders. In the meantime, dual diagnosis patients and their families must be diligent in finding a treatment center that can serve their needs.


Click to access dualdiagnosis.pdf

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