The Dangers of Coping With Anxiety Through Substance Use
Generally, for many addicts and alcoholics, coping with anxiety looks like using a substance to numb their feelings or uncomfortable emotions. In the short-run, numbing ourselves with substances can shoo away anxiety. However, long-term substance abuse makes anxiety worse.
In early recovery, coping with anxiety often means starting from square one. To highlight the problems with using drugs for anxiety, we need to look no further than benzodiazepines, which includes drugs like Xanax and Valium. While these drugs treat anxiety, evidence shows that long-term use can actually worsen symptoms of anxiety and even cause brain damage.
Other drugs, like alcohol and opioids, block our ability to learn to cope with anxiety and stress because of their ability to numb feelings. Drugs like cocaine and Adderall can worsen anxiety because they act as stimulants. No matter the drug of choice, if you’re using it to cope with anxiety, unfortunately, you’re trading long-term peace for a few moments of relief.
How Do I Know If I Have Anxiety?
Before we identify some ways of coping with anxiety, it’s quintessential to be aware of what anxiety is. For some with anxiety disorders, like panic disorder or GAD, symptoms are severe and best treated by professionals. For others, tension arises due to typical daily stress, like a big project at work or a fight with a partner.
Whether you experience daily anxiety or have an anxiety disorder, these are some common symptoms that you might experience:
- Racing thoughts
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid, short breaths or difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Tightness in the chest
- Tremors or shakes
- Panic attacks
- Excessive worrying
All of these symptoms can be a problem in recovery- if you can’t stop worrying, it’s hard to focus on the hard work of getting sober. Additionally, this anxiety can also be a trigger for many people and lead to relapse if not addressed. Fortunately, there are some practical ways of coping with stress that doesn’t involve substances!
Healthy Ways of Coping With Anxiety
First things first: if you think you might have an anxiety disorder, it’s imperative to see a doctor who can make a diagnosis. Also, many non-narcotic medications can treat anxiety effectively. Generally, if you struggle with dual diagnosis– i.e., suffering from addiction and another mental health concern- it is vital that you get professional treatment. For those of us struggling with day-to-day anxiety, there are hundreds of ways to cope.
Using any of the following skills can reduce anxiety and even prevent a drug or alcohol relapse.
- Meditation and prayer
- Deep breathing or grounding exercises
- Listening to your favorite album or soothing songs
- Taking a walk outside
- Calling a friend to talk about the anxiety- sometimes a new perspective can make all the difference!
- Hitting a meeting and sharing about anxiety
- Cutting back on caffeine, which can increase anxiety
- Getting proper nutrition and sleep
- Indulging in some self-care, such as getting a massage or taking a relaxing bath
- Spending time with pets, family, and friends
Beating Addiction and Anxiety
The sad truth is that many people develop an addiction by trying to manage anxiety. Whether it starts with a prescription from the doctor or a few drinks after work, trying to manage anxiety with substances can lead to dependence. Therefore, in recovery, coping with anxiety is an essential part of preventing relapse. Additionally, it is also a huge part of enjoying life in recovery- which is one of the significant reasons to get sober in the first place. If you are used to managing anxiety with substances, the good news is that it is possible to get sober and beat anxiety.
Generally, it usually takes the help of professional therapists and doctors who know how to treat both conditions. Thus, Lighthouse Recovery Institute proudly offers addiction and dual diagnosis treatment. With these programs, we help people recover from addiction alongside anxiety, depression, and many other painful conditions. If you’re looking for comprehensive help, don’t hesitate to reach out today!