Anxiety is a natural reaction related to the brain’s “fight or flight” response mechanism. For some, however, anxiety is not a temporary concern due to entirely reasonable circumstances. Instead, it is pervasive and may increase in severity over time. As a result, symptoms can begin to interfere with an individual’s ability to function, even regarding everyday activities and responsibilities, such as work, academics, family life, and relationships.
There are many types of anxiety disorders, but generalized anxiety disorder is the most common. Other conditions include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobia-related disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Some individuals with anxiety disorders abuse drugs or alcohol as a misguided method of self-medication. For example, while one or two drinks may help the average person alleviate stress and inhibitions, chronic heavy drinking has not been shown to mitigate anxiety and, in fact, may exacerbate it or sometimes be a primary cause of it.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition hallmarked by chronic anxiety and excessive worry and stress, even in situations in which there appears to be little or no provocation. Individuals diagnosable as having GAD will have experienced extreme anxiety or distress on a daily basis for at least six months.
These worries can be associated with many factors, including those related to one’s health, work, social interactions, and everyday life circumstances. This anxiety can then result in several significant problems in many of these same areas of life, and symptoms may include the following:
- Restlessness/feeling on edge
- Being fatigued easily
- Being irritable or agitated
- Feelings of tension
- Concentration difficulties
- Uncontrollable anxious feelings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Insomnia/sleep disturbances
Additionally, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder also experience a substance use disorder.
Other Anxiety Disorders Linked to Substance Abuse
Panic disorder is a potentially debilitating condition characterized by spontaneous, repeated bouts of extreme dread and feelings of impending doom or losing control. These feelings are often accompanied by physical, terror-fueled symptoms, such as rapid heart rate and palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, crying, trembling, and sweating.
Panic attacks can appear to be wholly out-of-the-blue but are most often prompted by some specific fear of a thing, person, or situation, such as a spider, clown, or being in an enclosed space.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by chronic, unwanted thoughts and obsessions and compulsive, repetitive behaviors, including activities such as excessive hand-washing, cleaning, counting, and strict organization of everything in one’s environment. OCD can be associated with a need to engage in almost any behavior, however.
The perfect performance of these rituals is required in order to suppress compulsive thoughts – at least temporarily. People who experience OCD only achieve a brief hiatus from these anxious feelings through the act of such routines, and engaging in them can further exacerbate anxiety. Some common symptoms of OCD include the following:
- Germophobia, or fear of germs or contamination leading to excessive hand-washing
- Unwanted or forbidden thoughts and feelings involving religion, sex, or self-harm
- Aggressive thoughts toward oneself or others
- Having things placed symmetrically or in a precise order, arranging things in a specific way
- Frequently checking on things, such as reassuring oneself that the door is locked repeatedly
- Compulsive counting
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a potentially devastating mental health issue that can onset after an individual has endured a psychologically catastrophic event where severe physical or emotional harm occurred. Common events that may instigate PTSD include physical and sexual assault, childhood abuse or neglect, military combat, and natural disasters.
Experiencing feelings of anxiety and fear both during and after undergoing a traumatic event is natural and protects individuals from future harm. However, persons with PTSD continue to re-experience these feelings during a situation that is, in reality, non-threatening.
Not every individual who encounters a traumatic event or will experience PTSD. Not every person affected by PTSD has been exposed to an event that directly threatens their physical well-being. For instance, some people can develop PTSD following a severe or prolonged illness or the traumatic death of a close family member or other loved one(s).
Symptoms usually onset within three months of a precipitating event but sometimes remain dormant until many months or years later. A diagnosis as having PTSD requires an individual to experience the following symptoms for more than thirty days and be severe enough to interfere with relationships, career, or academics. These include the following:
- One or more re-experiencing symptoms, such as flashbacks and nightmares
- One or more avoidance symptoms, such as the avoidance of places or events that remind the individual of the traumatic experience
- At least two reactivity or arousal symptoms, such as being startled easily or experiencing explosive outbursts
- At least two mood or cognitive symptoms, such as experiencing negative thoughts about oneself or having feelings of guilt or self-blame
Once people experience traumatic events, they may also develop feelings of guilt and shame that can manifest in alcohol abuse or drug addiction. Alcohol dependence can worsen PTSD symptoms and produce very unpleasant side effects.
A phobia is characterized by an intense fear of a specific object (e.g., needles), a living thing (e.g., spider), or a situation (e.g., being confined in a small space). Anxiety may be considered a natural reaction in many of these situations. Still, individuals who are affected by phobias endure terror and frequently panic that is drastically out of proportion to a circumstance.
Symptoms of phobia-related disorders include:
- Having irrational or unrealistic concern about possibly being exposed to the object or situations that terrify them
- Making great efforts to avoid the object or situation
- Experiencing sudden and intense anxiety or panic when encountering the situation or object
- Enduring contact with objects or conditions that are unavoidable while experiencing anxiety and fear
Other anxiety disorders include separation anxiety disorder (a fear of being separated from a person to whom one is emotionally bonded) and social anxiety disorder (social phobia). The latter is characterized by an intense fear of social situations or those in which the individual must speak or perform in front of others. Because alcohol reduces inhibition and, for this reason, is often referred to as a “social lubricant,” it’s common for persons affected by social anxiety to drink excessively.
Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance use disorders (SUDs) are often found among people who suffer from anxiety disorders than the general population. When left untreated, anxiety disorders often compel people to experiment with intoxicating substances as a method of self-medication. Emotional symptoms related to using these substances, such as depression, irritability, and general malaise, often exacerbate anxiety disorders and perpetuate an endless cycle of substance abuse and mental health issues.
Fortunately, anxiety and substance abuse are very treatable and should be addressed concurrently as soon as possible. Just Believe Recovery center offers comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment that includes behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, group support, relapse prevention, and aftercare planning to sustain long-term sobriety.