Most people with alcohol or substance use disorder (SUD) and anxiety disorders experience them independently. However, having both can be an unending cycle where the symptoms of one disorder make the symptoms of the other worse. An anxiety disorder may lead to using alcohol or other substances to self-medicate or relieve anxiety symptoms.
Coping with severe anxiety during recovery can be complicated. But recovery is possible even when living with an anxiety disorder. It just takes a dedicated team and the right rehab program.
Coping With Severe Anxiety Disorder in Recovery
Recovery isn’t just about learning to live without drugs or alcohol, but about coping with severe anxiety that stems from repressed emotions. Recovery also teaches you how to maneuver through challenging situations. This is also true of anxiety. It’s important to learn to live with feeling anxious without trying to avoid it.
- Realize that the only way out is through
Feelings and emotions are our body’s way of telling us something. Take note of them and ask yourself what you are afraid of and see if there is a way to overcome those fears.
- Write it down
Writing about your state of mind can be a great way to put your thoughts in order. It also helps to plan your day. Having a plan can calm anxiety.
Meditation can calm your mind, soothe your senses, and keep you grounded.
It’s a form of coping with severe anxiety in a natural way.
Using the breathing techniques practiced in yoga helps you connect with your body. People often forget to breathe or breathe shallowly when they’re anxious. Yoga is perfect to restore the body and give it the oxygen it needs.
Speaking to a therapist can help you talk through your fears, order your thoughts, figure out what’s bothering you and help you make a plan of action.
- Speak to your medical provider
You can develop a plan of action with your doctor. That could mean medication or otherwise making sure you’re taking care of yourself. Self-care is crucial to recovery.
Moving is essential to processing stress hormones that your body produces in response to anxiety. You’ll get a boost in feel-good chemicals and an extended feeling of relaxation. It’s an excellent solution for anxiety.
Essential oils can interrupt the body’s stress response, relieve anxiety, reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and promote relaxation. Try using lavender in a diffuser, or put a couple of drops on your hands. Then, inhale deeply for 30 seconds.
- Herbal tea
Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, is known for its calming properties on the nervous system. You can take it as a supplement or sip the tea when you feel anxious. Other herbal teas, like chamomile, can help as well.
- Spend time with animals.
In a survey, as many as 84% of pet owners reported reduced anxiety by owning a pet. Even if you don’t own one, you can get benefits by volunteering to walk a friend’s dog or go to a cat cafe!
Practicing these simple self-care strategies will help improve your symptoms to make life more manageable. However you choose to deal with your anxiety, you should remember that you’re not alone. Coping with severe anxiety involves a strong support network.
The 5 Major Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD features include chronic anxiety and exaggerated worry/tension. This happens even when there is little or nothing to produce it.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
This anxiety disorder is characterized by repeated unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing unwanted thoughts or making them go away.
Panic disorder is typified by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear with physical symptoms. Symptoms might include chest pains, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal pain.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can develop after a terrifying event or ordeal in which serious physical harm happened or was threatened. Therapy geared to help PTSD can also help with coping with severe anxiety.
Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
This anxiety disorder is characterized by overwhelming anxiety and extreme self-consciousness in everyday social situations. It may be limited to one specific type of situation, such as fear of speaking in formal or informal situations. Sometimes it’s almost every time they’re around other people in severe cases.
The Challenge of SUDs and Coping With Severe Anxiety
There is evidence from studies that show that anxiety disorders and substance use disorders commonly co-occur. The interaction between the two disorders is complex and variable. Specific anxiety disorders associated with substance abuse include:
- Panic disorder
- OCD (less frequently)
Researchers have found that anxiety symptoms can appear during the course of continual intoxication and withdrawal. They can also be a risk factor for the development of SUDs. The challenge develops because anxiety disorders can modify the presentation and treatment outcome of SUDs. Likewise, SUDs can complicate coping with severe anxiety.
Which Disorder Comes First?
As mentioned, these disorders feed off each other, making diagnosis and treatment all the more complicated and challenging. This comorbidity creates a mutual maintenance pattern in which each one affects the treatment and outcome of the other. The most common complications of these co-existing conditions are:
Social Anxiety Disorder
The comorbidity of SUD (mainly alcohol abuse), is common among people who have social anxiety disorder. Individuals with this disorder claim that alcohol helps lessen their anxiety, even though it often makes it worse. Alcohol abuse typically begins after the onset of this disorder.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD commonly occurs with substance abuse. People struggling with this disorder commonly use drugs or alcohol to try to ease the anxiety. However, substance abuse can worsen symptoms of PTSD. Most mental health professionals treat PTSD and substance abuse together because the symptoms of PTSD (intrusive thoughts and sleep disturbances) can cause a relapse.
Drugs and alcohol frequently cause panic attacks. Therefore, having a panic disorder is a risk factor for relapse among people with panic disorder symptoms. Alcohol abuse very often begins before or at the same time as panic disorder symptoms.
Recognizing a Dual Diagnosis When Coping With Severe Anxiety
When you have two disorders occurring at the same time, it is called a dual diagnosis. Therefore, if you have a co-occurring SUD and a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, it’s considered a dual diagnosis.
It can be hard to recognize. It takes time to sort out what might be a mental health disorder and what might be a drug or alcohol problem. The signs and symptoms also vary depending on the mental health problem and the substance being abused. Still, there are some general warning signs that you may have a dual diagnosis including:
- Do you cope with unpleasant memories or feelings by using drugs or alcohol? Does substance use help you control the pain or intensity of your moods or to face situations that frighten you? Or to help you stay focused on tasks?
- Does there seem to be a relationship between your substance use and your mental health? For instance, do you get depressed when you drink? Do you drink when you’re feeling anxious or hounded by unpleasant memories?
- Has a member of your family struggled with either a mental disorder or alcohol and drug abuse?
- Do you feel anxious, depressed, or somehow out of balance even when you’re sober?
- Have you ever been treated for either your addiction or mental health issue? Did you relapse back to substance abuse because of the mental health problem or vice versa?
Denial About Living With an Anxiety Disorder and SUD
Denial is common to both substance abuse and mental health issues. It’s difficult to admit you are dependent on alcohol or drugs or how much of an effect they have on your life. In the same way, the symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression can be frightening.
As a result, you might try to ignore them in the hope that it will all just go away. Maybe, you’re ashamed or afraid of being seen as weak if you admit you have a problem. But these coexisting conditions can happen to anyone. And admitting you have a problem and seeking help is the first step to recovery.
Treatment For Dual Diagnosis and Living With an Anxiety Disorder
The best treatment for comorbid disorders is a unified approach in which both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated at the same time. It doesn’t matter which came first, long-term recovery depends on getting treatment for both disorders by the same treatment provider or team.
Finding A Treatment Team
Although there are several approaches that treatment programs might take, the basics of effective treatment that you should look for are:
- Treatment should address both the SUD and the mental health problem.
- You should be able to take part in the decision-making process and be involved in setting goals and forming plans for change.
- Treatment should include basic education about your disorders and the related issues.
- You should be taught healthy coping skills and strategies to minimize substance abuse, strengthen your relationships, and help you deal with life’s stressors.
Novel Approaches to Treatment
There have been several investigations into novel treatments for anxiety disorders co-occurring with substance use disorders. Most studies have tried to find treatments that address both issues. Research continues to develop and includes pharmacotherapy (medication) and psychotherapy (talk therapy) as primary methods for these dual diagnoses.
Getting Help at Harmony Ridge
We know that substance abuse problems and mental health issues don’t get better when they’re ignored—in fact, they are likely to get much worse. But you should know that you don’t have to feel this way. There are things you can do to conquer your demons, restore your relationships, and get on the road to recovery.
With the right support and treatment, you can overcome a co-occurring disorder, reclaim your sense of self, and get your life back on track. At Harmony Ridge, we’re experts in coping with a severe anxiety disorder. You don’t have to live with every day being a battle. And you don’t have to watch a loved one go through it. Contact us now.