The Connection Between Anxiety and Drug Abuse

A co-occurring disorder happens when someone struggles with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder at the same time. This is also referred to as a dual diagnosis or comorbidity. Co-occurring disorders occur more often than many people realize. Depending on the nature and severity of one’s unique circumstances, the interactions between the two (or more) disorders can worsen the symptoms of both. According to data provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as 7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. This does not mean one “caused” the other, and it is often difficult to determine which came first. The same report further broke down the data to indicate that of the over twenty million adults with substance use disorders, as many as forty percent also had a mental illness.

Conversely, of the over forty-two million adults with a mental illness, almost twenty percent also had substance use disorders. Unfortunately, treatment statistics for someone with a co-occurring disorder are not optimal. Approximately fifty-three percent received neither mental health care nor addiction treatment services, and only nine percent received treatment for both. 

Anxiety Explained

Anxiety is a natural stress response. When someone experiences a stressful situation or event, the body reacts with feelings of fear or apprehension about the situation. Anxiety itself can be a healthy response. For some people, it helps provide motivation or encourages them to avoid particular situations that may be unsafe. However, if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, interfere with day-to-day functioning, or last for longer than six months, you may have an anxiety disorder. When someone struggles with an anxiety disorder, feelings of anxiety never ease. Sometimes these emotions are so intense they can be debilitating and prevent you from doing the things you need to do or enjoy doing. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone regardless of age or gender identification. There are several forms of anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety, and social anxieties. 


How one feels when they struggle with anxiety will vary depending on the person. For some, it may be butterflies in your stomach or a mild feeling of emotional discomfort. For others, it can be a racing heart and difficulty breathing. Anxiety may also produce panic attacks, nightmares, overwhelming feelings of worry and fear, and problems sleeping and concentrating.  

How Anxiety and Drug Abuse are Linked

Those who struggle with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol than those who do not have anxiety. As the symptoms associated with anxiety progress and inevitably worsen, many turn to substances as a form of self-medication. Drugs are used to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with anxiety and to escape the current reality that is causing anxiety symptoms. Drugs are used to produce feelings of euphoria and happiness that seem unattainable without them. As time goes on and self-medication continues, it becomes difficult to feel joy or manage anxiety symptoms without turning to drugs. As tolerance develops, you may find you need to take more and more of a particular substance to achieve the same effects you did early on. At this point, a dependence on drugs has developed, which can quickly evolve to addiction without the proper treatment for both mental health and substance abuse needs. 

Get the Dual Diagnosis Treatment You Deserve 

If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder and a co-occurring addiction, it is essential to seek professional treatment to help manage the symptoms of both conditions. If left untreated, these conditions can quickly become more severe and impart overwhelming adverse impacts on one’s life for years to come. At a luxury rehab like Rise in Malibu, California, our treatment programs are individually designed to meet your unique treatment needs. Our skilled staff will help you address not only the needs surrounding your relationship with substances but the emotions and difficulties you may experience related to anxiety and anxiety symptoms. At Rise, we can help you start on your path to a future free of anxiety and drug abuse. Contact our admissions team at our Malibu rehab today to learn more. 

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