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Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

Man with glasses considers generalized anxiety disorder and addiction

Mental health and substance use are often linked. When this occurs, the relationship between the two can become quite complex, with each influencing the other in multiple negative ways. When a substance use disorder occurs with a mental health concern, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. One such mental health issue, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), is exceedingly prevalent. Characterized by constant and intense worry, a person with GAD may face long-term challenges, including substance use and addiction, conditions that only serve to worsen the anxiety.

An approach that involves both anxiety and addiction treatment can be critical in promoting lasting recovery. An effective anxiety treatment program can promote lasting, sustainable recovery.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder marked by persistent and overwhelming fear and anxiety to the extent a person cannot control these feelings. Reaching excessive levels, these states of mind may occur for no clear reason and may even arise with the mere thought of facing a single day. This can drastically affect a person’s quality of life by interfering with their day-to-day activities and responsibilities.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety include:

  • Becoming easily tired or lethargic
  • Feeling restless, agitated, or tense
  • Trouble concentrating or holding onto thoughts
  • Becoming irritable
  • Muscles become tense
  • Poor quality of sleep (cannot fall asleep, remain sleeping, or wake up not feeling rested)

Many of these things may lead to adverse effects which trigger or worsen anxiety. For instance, an individual who struggles to sleep or concentrate may fall behind in their work duties, becoming anxious about job security, finances, etc.

The Connection Between Generalized Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

For an individual with generalized anxiety, adding drugs or alcohol to the mix is playing with fire. When a person suffers from GAD, even normal thoughts, actions, and circumstances may evoke an anxious reaction; coupled with a substance use disorder, which elicits abnormal thoughts, behaviors and situational reactions, the anxiety may further intensify.

The connection between these two disorders is complex. As anxiety puts a person on high alert, creating a constant onslaught of negative thoughts and emotions, some individuals may be prone to use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to reduce these symptoms. What many of these individuals may not know is that these behaviors only serve to accelerate the existing anxiety over time.

Over time, a person may develop a tolerance to the substance, finding that they need more to create the same pleasurable effect. As this occurs, physical dependence may take hold. If this continues, with repeated and chronic use, the compulsive habits of addiction may quickly follow, granting the anxiety a further hold over your life.

How Does an Addiction Alter Your Brain Chemistry?

Drugs are chemicals that your body views as invasive toxins. When the drug of use enters a person’s system, it goes immediately to work by altering crucial physical, mental, and emotional functions, rendering many of them less efficient or significantly impaired. The human brain is responsible for overseeing and directing neurochemical functions that support critical life support systems, immune functioning, and various processes related to mental and emotional health. With the introduction of a drug on a repeated basis, many of these functions begin to change, acting in a manner that manifests as illness, disease, and mood disturbances.

Drugs and alcohol change the way neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, within your brain process and relay information. These chemicals are responsible for regulating systems of pleasure and reward and a person’s mood functions. With prolonged substance use and addiction, an individual may no longer be able to experience a sense of reward, pleasure, or emotional stability without the presence of the drug.

How Do Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse Affect Each Other?

These two mental health concerns, when combined, bring a host of adverse effects to the individual who suffers from them. Standing alone, generalized anxiety and certain substance use disorders can create:

  • Intense fatigue
  • Edginess
  • Restlessness
  • Mood instability
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Social isolation
  • Increased risk of certain diseases

They can also significantly impair an individual’s ability to focus, sleep properly, or carry out the requisite tasks of their career, educational pursuits, or family obligations. Combined, these two disorders can compound these adverse effects, along with numerous others. Both of these disorders, if left untreated, carry heightened risks of a person developing another co-occurring disorder.

How Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorders and Addiction Can Help

As both of these disorders have great potential to aggravate the other, effective addiction treatment must address each concurrently. This is to say, if a person only treats one, when they enter into life after recovery, the untreated disorder may create triggers or stress which could cause a person to relapse. A thorough treatment program will address these co-occurring disorders by utilizing a variety of treatment modalities.

These can include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Family therapy and support
  • Peer support groups

Find Mental, Emotional, and Physical Balance at Vertava Health Mississippi

We realize that co-occurring disorders can change the landscape of your life. While these things make treatment more complex, they do not make it impossible. At Vertava Health Mississippi, we are committed to delivering evidence-based care that can aid you in finding sobriety and in making the positive and lasting changes that are essential to a successful recovery. Contact us today at 844.951.1931 or reach out online to learn more.