The Relationship Between Substance Abuse & Anxiety Disorders

"Failing to treat an existing condition like ADHD or depression can also exacerbate anxiety, leading to the overuse of alcohol or drugs"
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Anxiety and substance abuse disorders are some of the most common psychiatric issues in the U.S., and studies show that these disorders co-occur at greater rates than would be expected by chance alone.1 While many anxious individuals self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, people who abuse substances may also develop anxiety as a result of their usage, creating a harmful pattern that can seem impossible to break. 

Explore the relationship between anxiety disorders and substance abuse addictions as well as treatment options for both. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders

We all get anxious from time to time, especially in new or threatening situations. But when anxiety impedes your everyday life, interfering with work, school, or relationships, an anxiety disorder may be at fault. There are various types of anxiety disorders that exist. They include:

    • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Excessive or unrealistic worry, often accompanied by physical symptoms like shaking, heart palpitations, sweating, and upset stomach 
    • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Obsessive thoughts and ruminations that lead to repeated behaviors
    • Panic disorder: Sudden and repeated episodes of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or a feeling of impending doom 
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event and characterized by nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, and avoidance of triggering situations
    • Social anxiety disorder (SAD): An intense fear of social situations in which one fears being judged, embarrassed, or ridiculed, often leading to social withdrawal and isolation
    • Specific phobias: Irrational fear of a specific object or situation, such as insects or heights, which leads to heightened reactions and avoidance of ordinary situations

Underlying Causes 

From genetics to environmental stress, there are various risk factors that may contribute to a person developing an anxiety disorder. Failing to treat an existing condition like ADHD or depression can also exacerbate anxiety, leading to the overuse of alcohol or drugs. Though research is still emerging, experts have pointed to the following potential causes:

  • Trauma
  • Genetics
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Illness
  • Excessive stress
  • Substance abuse or withdrawal
  • Chronic pain

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Signs of Substance Abuse 

Among Americans aged 12 years and older,  37.309 million are current illegal drug users and 138.522 million drink alcohol — and these are just the recorded figures.2 In reality, usage is likely much more rampant. 

Like anxiety, genetics may be a contributing factor, as well as living in a chaotic home environment, experiencing abuse, caving to peer pressure, experiencing excessive stress, and having a mental health disorder. If you’re not sure you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, look for the following signs:3

  • Feeling the need to use substances regularly, either daily or several times a day
  • Obsessing about the substance to the point of blocking out other thoughts
  • Feeling powerless to resist using
  • Maintaining a supply of the substance
  • Needing more of the substance over time to experience desired effects
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on the substance
  • Neglecting relationships, work, or hygiene 
  • Continuing to use the substance in spite of physical or psychological harm
  • Engaging in risky behavior to attain the substance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using substance

How Does Anxiety Relate to Substance Abuse? 

People with an anxiety disorder are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives. And 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder are said to also have an anxiety or mood disorder, leading many to wonder which one comes first.4 The answer is not so simple. The symptoms of one disorder can make the symptoms another worse, leading to a vicious cycle of chemical dependence and addiction. 

Contributing factors are also similar. Both anxiety disorders and substance use disorders may be related to chemical imbalances in the brain. Low levels of the feel-good transmitter serotonin have been linked with both alcoholism and mental illness. Genetics and family history can also play a role, leading to co-occuring conditions.

Treatment Options 

Many rehab facilities have the ability to treat substance abuse and mental health conditions at the same time, so if you or a loved one is struggling with both, it is crucial that you address both as soon as possible. Finding a good therapist to work with can help you unpack the root causes of your anxiety and substance abuse while also equipping you with tools to deal with difficult emotions and sensations in a healthier way.

Your doctor may also recommend medication, though it’s important for individuals to know that some medications do carry their own risk for abuse and side effects, so be sure to ask your doctor to discuss these with you first. 

An alternative to prescription medication is Brillia, a non-prescription homeopathic medication that reduces anxiety, irritability, and restlessness without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Brillia’s active ingredient consists of antibodies to the S100B protein, which plays a crucial role in many different intracellular and extracellular brain processes, including various enzyme activities, calcium homeostasis, and communication between neurons. By regulating this protein, Brillia gently and efficiently normalizes levels of monoamines in different parts of the brain, including the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, helping to promote focus and a balanced mood. 

Brillia is not habit-forming, nor does it cause drowsiness, lethargy, or depression. And the medication has no contraindications, so if you are already taking a medication or supplement, you can add Brillia to your regimen without worry.  

Whether you decide to take medication or not, making healthy lifestyle adjustments is another crucial component to reducing anxiety that may be leading to substance abuse. Ensuring you practice self-care such as following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and remembering to take a time-out when needed for relaxation and rest are all important lifestyle habits you should never forget to prioritize. 

Learn more about how Brillia works and visit the Brillia(nce) Resource Center for more tips on managing anxiety and stress.

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References: 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2904966/, 2https://drugabusestatistics.org/, 3https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112, 4https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/co-occurring-disorders/substance-abuse

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