Dual Diagnosis Anxiety and Addiction: A Vicious (But Escapable) Cycle

You know the feeling all too well: the burning sensation in your stomach; the blankness in your mind; the racing thoughts and over-analysis; the implacable sensation that something is just not right, that you’re not okay. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone – you’re one of the 40 million adults in the US who struggles with anxiety disorder. And if you do, there’s a good chance you’ve also turned to substances to try to numb down those very uncomfortable feelings.

Co-occurring anxiety and addiction is a widespread phenomenon. And it’s a complex condition that requires specialized treatment to overcome. That’s because both disorders fuel one another – anxiety can lead to addiction, and substance abuse can trigger anxiety, resulting in a situation in which both are more severe than they would be if they occurred on their own. Let’s take a look at how this happens, and what can be done to effectively treat it.

How Anxiety Leads to Addiction

As humans, we become anxious because our bodies are responding to a perceived threat. This sends us into fight-or-flight mode, a state that was originally designed for our survival, but shouldn’t be sustained regularly or for long periods of time. Eventually, it exhausts us, emotionally drains us and causes all kinds of physical ailments.

It’s common for people who constantly experience this uncomfortable state to self-medicate with substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines and other drugs in their search for relief. But over time, it stops working as tolerance develops and the brain comes to rely on those substances to remain calm. Once you’re dependent on substances, you’ll experience effects like severe anxiety or panic attacks, intense cravings and withdrawals when you try to stop.

How Substance Abuse Causes Anxiety

While drugs like anti-anxiety medications may soothe anxiety in the moment, they don’t solve what’s causing it in the first place. And on top of that, they can seriously weaken your natural mechanisms for managing it. Benzos like Xanax, Valium and Ativan are known to have a rebound effect: that is, your anxiety can be far worse in the aftermath of extended use than it was in the first place.

The same goes for other substances – alcohol and drugs affect the brain’s reward system, eventually depleting its natural feel-good chemicals and leaving you in an anxious and uncomfortable state that your brain thinks it needs more substances to soothe. This is why dual diagnosis disorders are so difficult to overcome – each problem feeds the other, causing addiction and mental health concerns to quickly spiral out of control.

How to Treat Co-occurring Anxiety and Addiction

Co-occurring anxiety and addiction are best treated with an integrative approach that sees the disorder holistically and treats both issues simultaneously. Because dual diagnosis treatment is so complex, it should be handled by experienced, specialized professionals. Detox from certain substances, like alcohol, opioids and benzodiazepines, entails severe withdrawal symptoms and should only be done under medical supervision.

The Sanctuary’s highly skilled staff has extensive experience in treating dual diagnosis disorders. Our interdisciplinary approach includes an array of therapies like nutrition, bodywork, acupuncture, herbalism, Energy Medicine, Functional Medicine, psychology and psychiatry that combine to effectively treat your whole self. If you’re ready to learn a better, healthier, more sustainable way to manage your anxiety, give us a call today at (877) 710-3385.

For more on holistic treatment for co-occurring disorders, see our article: What is a Dual Diagnosis Holistic Recovery Center?