Everyone experiences anxiety, ranging from mild worry to intense fear. Some people are very aware of their anxiety; others aren’t conscious of it until it’s overwhelming; and others are overly aware of their anxiety, which often results in increasing it. Some experience anxiety mainly over specific situations, whereas others have more general feelings of anxiety. We’re nervous when we do things for the first time: going on dates, speaking to groups, or starting new jobs. For some, anxiety is short-lived and does not interfere in their lives other than causing mild discomfort. For others, anxiety causes panic, stops them from enjoying many activities, and interferes with daily living. Anxiety is related to addiction in two ways: We often feel anxiety when we practice new non-addictive behaviors, and we try to reduce anxiety with addictive behaviors.
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, more Americans suffer from anxiety disorders than any other mental illness. Individuals with anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from a substance use disorder.
There are many forms of anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Panic Disorder
- Specific Phobias
Anxiety will manifest in two ways, physical and psychological.
Signs & Symptoms
- An intrusive fear – either general or specific – occurs on most days of the week for six months or more
- A decline in the quality of relationships, work performance, social activities
- Repeated attempts to resolve the fears without success
- The use of substances such as alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, or behaviors such as overeating, to manage anxiety symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating or clamminess
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest Pain
- Choking sensations
- Stomach pain
The physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety are similar to withdrawal symptoms from drugs and alcohol. An addict will automatically look for substances to calm an anxious state. The avoidance of uncomfortable physical agitation and painful emotions are some of the components that maintain addiction and anxiety. Both anxiety and addiction will become stronger the more the addict continues using drugs and/or alcohol. Addiction enables the addict to avoid confronting and challenging anxious thoughts and feelings.
Anxiety and addiction are related in several ways. People who are socially anxious may have come to rely on substances to help them feel brave, reduce social fears, quiet internal self-criticism, and calm their bodies when interacting with others. However, at the same time, substance use erodes their confidence and ability to master the necessary skills to interact with others. The excessive fear and worry in social situations do not generally have any factual basis, but it feels so real that it results in avoidance or an inability to fully engage with others. So, at times not only is it challenging to initiate social connections but there is also a struggle to grow or maintain them.
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