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What is Anxiety?

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20 percent of people diagnosed with anxiety disorders also have a substance or alcohol use disorder. Conversely, around 20 percent of people with a substance or alcohol use disorder have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. As such, learning more about what anxiety is and how it is related to alcohol and substance abuse can be beneficial to ensure you or a loved one gets the help they need.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety causes a person to have a sense of worry, unease, or nervousness with any presence of a threat. For example, when we experience fear, we can experience these same feelings. However, fear is triggered when there is a presence of a threat. 

Everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another, often when under stress. When it is triggered by stress, it is not considered a mental health disorder. Instead, it is regarded as a natural response. 

Yet, when the feelings do not go away, is when it is considered a mental health disorder. The constant feelings can start to impact how one functions and manages their daily routines. 

What Are Some Different Types of Anxiety Disorders?

There are several different types of anxiety disorders that are characterized by their own symptoms. Some of the more common ones include:

Regardless of the actual type of disorder, most people will exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Worry
  • Panic
  • Unrationalized fear
  • Apprehension
  • Evasiveness
  • Elevated heart rate or blood pressure

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not fully understood. However, there are several potential risk factors that are associated with these disorders, such as:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Extreme, prolonged periods of stress
  • Brain structure
  • Behavioral inhibitions
  • Environmental factors
  • Alcohol or substance use

How Are These Disorders Diagnosed?

Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when a person shares the feelings they have been experiencing with their doctor. Then, their doctor usually orders various lab tests to rule out other potential causes. 

If the test results are normal, then a referral to a mental health professional is made. The mental health professional will ask the person different questions to determine the extent of symptoms and their frequency. Based on this information, a diagnosis is made. 

How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated?

Anxiety disorder treatment usually relies on counseling and therapy sessions to help the person uncover the underlying causes of the disorder. This can be supplemented with various medications that can help alleviate symptoms. 

The most common drugs used are benzos (benzodiazepines), such as Xanax. However, benzos need to be taken as prescribed, as misuse can lead to addiction. 

Are These Disorders Curable?

Currently, there are no known cures for anxiety disorders. However, they are treatable conditions. Most people notice improvements in their symptoms and are able to live productive lives within the first month or two of treatment. 

How Does Anxiety Lead to Addiction?

When someone experiences anxiety, they may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism to alleviate the symptoms. This is commonly referred to as self-medicating. Then, when the person feels more “normal” from drinking or using drugs, they can continue to rely on alcohol or drugs. 

Unfortunately, as the body builds a tolerance to alcohol and drugs, more is needed to achieve the desired effects. Eventually, the person cannot function without drinking or using drugs. Sadly, their symptoms often become worse as their addiction grows. 

How Does Addiction Lead to Anxiety?

While many people may assume anxiety can lead to addiction, the converse is also true. When someone has a family history or other risk factors for developing mental health disorders, alcohol and substance use can be the trigger that activates the disorder. 

In addition, some people may have a mild form of anxiety disorder without knowing it. As they continue to drink or use drugs, they start to notice they are experiencing undesirable symptoms. So, to attempt to alleviate those, they continue to drink and use drugs. Yet, they will continue to feel worse whenever the drugs or alcohol wear off. 

How Are These Disorders Treated?

When a person is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and also has an alcohol or substance use disorder, this is called a co-occurring condition or dual diagnosis. It is crucial that treatment addresses both conditions simultaneously. Treating one or the other is not effective and often results in relapse. Treatment plans are customized to fit the individual’s specific needs and often include:

  • Medical detox from alcohol or drugs
  • Individual counseling and therapy
  • Group counseling and therapy
  • Prescription medications when appropriate

Anxiety and Addiction Treatment in Orange County, CA

Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA, offers a supportive, safe, and caring environment for you to take the first steps to recovery. In addition, we offer personalized co-occurring treatment programs at our treatment center. Contact us today.


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