**This is a sponsored post & contains sponsored material. The topic was suggested & commissioned by me, for my readers. The post is aimed at readers in the US. Written by Dr. Nancy Irwin of Seasons in Malibu.**
If you live with anxiety, having a glass or two of wine or a few puffs of marijuana may seem like a relatively harmless way to take the edge off. But this is a risky way to cope, especially when you consider the facts about the relationship between anxiety and addiction.
People with anxiety disorders are 2 to 3 times more likely to have a substance use disorder (SUD) than people in the general population.
1 in 5 Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder (such as depression) has a problem with alcohol or another substance.
According to results from one survey, it can be estimated that up to 12 million adults in the UK reported using alcohol as a means to help with depression or relaxation. The unfortunate irony is that depressants like alcohol can actually make anxiety symptoms worse. Let’s look at some examples.
Social Anxiety & Alcohol Abuse
If you have social anxiety disorder, you likely find social situations uncomfortable or even unbearable. You’re not alone. Around 15 million adults in the U.S. experience social anxiety in any given year.
Many drink to cope with feelings of self-consciousness and fear of being embarrassed or judged by others. In fact, around 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder have an alcohol use disorder.
The issue is that while alcohol might initially make you feel more relaxed, once it wears off you can end up feeling even more anxious. This is because alcohol disrupts serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain—important chemicals that help regulate your mood and social
Worse, alcohol can actually bring on anxiety, which can last for several hours or even a full day after drinking.
Bottom line: Drinking alcohol temporarily masks anxiety, but it doesn’t fix the underlying problem. It can make anxiety worse and perpetuate an unhealthy cycle of drinking to cope.
PTSD & Alcohol/Drug Abuse
Most of us will experience at least one traumatic event in our lives. But roughly 20 percent of us will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which causes severe anxiety, uncomfortable thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares about the event. 4 PTSD is common in both men and women, but women are twice as likely to develop it.
Given the sometimes-paralyzing panic PTSD causes, it’s not surprising it’s a leading cause of substance abuse. Nearly half of all people with PTSD in the U.S. also have an alcohol or drug use disorder.
If you have PTSD, you may reach for alcohol or drugs to ease the intrusive thoughts and negative feelings the disorder causes. But, as with social anxiety, this can make things worse.
Panic Disorder & Alcohol/Drug Abuse
If you have panic disorder you know all too well that it causes sudden panic attacks that cause feelings of terror, even when there’s no real danger.
Panic attacks can cause a cluster of scary symptoms, including racing heartbeat, stomach pain, trouble breathing, sweating, dizziness, and others. Some people describe it as feeling as though the air has been sucked out of the room or as if they’re having a heart attack.
These symptoms can be incredibly confusing and disorienting. And they can and sometimes do lead people with panic disorder to use alcohol or other drugs (like benzodiazepines) to excess.
But, as with other anxiety disorders, using substances to deal with panic attacks only masks the problem and can lead to a SUD. Your best course of action is to get help managing panic attacks from a trained professional.
Hope for People Struggling with Anxiety & Substance Abuse
There’s hopeful news for people struggling with a dual diagnosis of a mental health disorder and a drug or alcohol use disorder. Research has shown that people who get help for PTSD and a substance use disorder at the same time, for example, have fewer PTSD symptoms, like nightmares and flashbacks. They also have fewer SUD symptoms, like cravings and inability to stop using.
If you’re ready to get help for yourself or a loved one, but you’re not sure where to start, get an assessment from a psychiatrist who has experience treating patients with substance use disorders or a doctor certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
If you decide to seek help from a drug and alcohol treatment facility, look for a program staffed by credentialed professionals who treat co-occurring disorders and understand the science of the relationship between addiction and mental health.
The promising news is that researchers and medical professionals have made significant strides in understanding anxiety and other mental health disorders. And society has made progress dismantling the stigma around drug and alcohol use disorders. If you, or someone you know, are struggling with anxiety and substance abuse there is help, and there is hope.
Dr. Nancy Irwin is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Seasons in Malibu, a rehab center providing world-class addiction treatment and dual diagnosis care. Dr. Irwin is a trauma expert and treats the underlying cause of addictions. She works with a team of psychiatrists,
addiction specialists and therapists at Seasons in Malibu, creating unique, personalized treatment programs for every client.