In a Word, Anxiety
Have you ever noticed that some people say, “I am anxious to meet you,” when what they really mean is, “I am eager to meet you”?
It is undeniably a small thing—the kind of thing grammar nerds bother innocent people about—but it also illustrates an important point: No one is eager to be anxious.
No one wants to experience anxiety, but an awful lot of people do.
For many people, those feelings of anxiety may be specific to certain situations—a big test we have to take or a presentation we have to give, for example. The anxiety we experience in these and other situations can be intense, but as a general rule, it passes once the situation is over.
For other people, however, anxiety is a continuous presence, making it hard to relax and to function effectively. Worse, an anxiety disorder can contribute to and reinforce the development of a substance use disorder. Understanding and addressing anxiety is a priority project for anyone struggling with mental health and substance use issues.
Five Varieties for Our Anxieties
It might seem as though everyone who is struggling with anxiety experiences it the same way. But “anxiety” is a catchall word for a number of different disorders—and those disorders are affecting nearly one-third of all adults in the United States. A variety of causes and risk factors may be in play, including trauma of various kinds, environmental stressors, issues related to a person’s psychological development, and underlying genetic predispositions.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are five major kinds of anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – persistent feelings of worry or tension even in the absence of a clear cause for those feelings
- Panic Disorder – an ongoing experience of intense fear (and related physical symptoms) without an identifiable cause
- Social Anxiety and Phobia Disorders – overwhelming feelings of awkwardness in social situations and/or extreme fear of any number of things, including agoraphobia (a fear of places or situations that might lead to panic) and separation anxiety disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – repeatedly re-experiencing the negative emotions associated with traumatic events from the past, leading to ongoing feelings of anxiety
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – powerlessness to avoid and/or bring to an end patterns of upsetting thoughts or repetitive behavior (for example, an irrepressible desire to repeatedly wash one’s hands)
Anxiety Can Wear a Disguise
Sometimes people do not immediately recognize that they (or someone they love) are struggling with an anxiety disorder. This may be because anxiety can sometimes seem, at first, to be something else entirely. For example, anxiety may manifest as:
- Increased agitation and irritability
- Periods of hyperactivity and/or extreme bouts of fatigue
- Constant feelings of restlessness
- Muscle tension that cannot be linked to any recent physical activity
- Withdrawal from social obligations
- An increased tendency to wake up in the middle of the night or general insomnia
So, for example, you might realize that you have been getting angry more often than usual. You might not even fully understand why things that have never bothered you before are now provoking such irritation. That could indicate that you are experiencing anxiety dressed up as anger.
Of course, other symptoms of anxiety are as clear as day, including:
- Intense and uncontrollable worrying
- An increased heart rate, shaking, and/or sweating that indicates a panic attack
- Deciding to address anxious feelings via alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs
Using drugs or alcohol as a coping method for anxiety does, of course, increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder. And the reverse is also often true: the stressors and problems that are associated with a substance use disorder can lead to increased feelings of anxiety.
In fact, one study suggests that nearly fifty percent of individuals struggling with a substance use disorder also experience some level of anxiety—up to and including the sorts of disorders we identified above. Anxiety disorders are also associated with an increased likelihood of relapse once a person leaves treatment and begins their recovery journey.
As a result, it is absolutely essential that any treatment for a substance use disorder also include treatment for anxiety or any other co-occurring mental health disorders. Treatment for just the substance use disorder or just the anxiety disorder simply will not provide a firm enough foundation on which to build a lasting recovery.
We Are Eager to Help You With Your Anxiety
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we understand the ways in which anxiety and a substance use disorder can reinforce one another—and we are fully prepared to address these kinds of co-occurring disorders. Our treatment plans are personalized, which means we will listen to you and create a plan that will address your personal needs.
You might be feeling some anxiety about seeking treatment for your substance use disorder—and that is perfectly normal. Overcoming that anxiety is the first step toward your goal of lasting sobriety. We are committed to putting you at ease so that you can move forward into a life free from substance use and from overwhelming feelings of anxiety.