In modern society, it seems as though anxiety has become a commonplace feeling. In fact, it’s been somewhat normalized in media and pop culture, leading to a misunderstanding of exactly how much anxiety should be deemed “normal.” While feeling anxious from time to time before an important event or during conflict is expected, constant and chronic anxiety is a much deeper issue that shouldn’t be ignored or minimized.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental concerns in the US. About 18% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from some form of anxiety, and approximately 36% of them seek help from a professional. These figures probably reflect the low end of reported instances of patients experiencing regular anxiety since there are likely many more people living with a generalized anxiety disorder who are unaware that their symptoms are a sign of a mental health issue.
Among people who struggle with anxiety or mood disorders, about 20% also have a substance use disorder. This dual diagnosis is common among patients, as untreated mental illness can be a driving factor for chronic substance misuse. Because mental health still carries a needless stigma, people may prefer to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to ease their anxiety than seeking help from a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, substances that only temporarily appear to numb anxiety tend to rebound as the body experiences withdrawal (or hangover), making anxiety symptoms feel much worse. This often prompts people to continue their substance misuse, constantly seeking a way to silence their nagging anxiousness, thus creating a vicious cycle that can spiral quickly into addiction.
One of the difficulties of helping people who developed substance use disorder while attempting to self-medicate is that mental illness and addiction both carry shame and a stigma. Especially for people with untreated PTSD and other trauma-related anxiety or OCD, the judgment they may feel from others is so damaging that they will go to great lengths to conceal their problems.
A preliminary way to help people who struggle with a dual diagnosis of anxiety disorder and addiction is to create safe spaces for discussion and education. Teaching parents, teachers, and employers the signs and symptoms of anxiety and addiction can help connect people with avenues to life-saving treatment they may not be aware is available to them.
Attending effective, comprehensive addiction treatment that includes substance use counseling is one of the best ways to combat the anxiety and addiction cycle. Because patients with anxiety are more likely to relapse, comprehensive recovery programs that use evidence-based methods such as MAT are essential for success. When addiction treatment is coupled with regular mental health check-ins where medical providers can diagnose and treat co-occurring anxiety disorders, patients are better prepared to combat the cycle that led them to substance use disorder.
No one should suffer from untreated anxiety and addiction in silence and shame. Middlesex Recovery offers patients private, office-based outpatient care with the help of specialized medical providers and counseling staff. Call or message a local Middlesex Recovery office today to learn more about the treatment options available.