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How Anxiety Affects Addiction Recovery

Anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of the United States population. Those with anxiety are 2 to 3 times more likely to struggle with a substance abuse disorder than those who don’t have anxiety. But even after seeking treatment for substance abuse, people with anxiety have many challenges to face outside of a treatment facility. Let’s explore how anxiety affects addiction recovery and what you can do to maintain your sobriety. 

Understanding Anxiety

Overall, we all experience stress and anxiety at some point in our lives—however, people suffering from an anxiety disorder experience high anxiety levels that can be debilitating. People with anxiety have difficulties leading a functional life. 

The most common type of anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder is also prevalent. People with this condition have intense feelings of fear, live in a constant state of worry, to the point it interferes with their ability to function in everyday life. Around 20% of people with an anxiety disorder also struggle with a substance use disorder. 

Anxiety Symptoms

Although anxiety is a mental health condition, it can have psychological and physical signs that manifest in various ways. Sometimes anxiety symptoms are long-lasting, while others come in flare-ups in the shape of anxiety attacks. 

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Uncontrollable, irrational feelings of worry and fear
  • Sensations of panic for no apparent reason
  • Trouble concentrating
  • A decline in relationships, job performance, social activities, and overall satisfaction with life
  • Substance misuse, self-medication, and other compulsive behaviors

Physical symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Choking sensations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness in the hands or feet

The Anxiety and Addiction Recovery Relationship

Co-occurring mental health disorders can derail your addiction recovery efforts. When people seek treatment for their substance abuse problems alone, ignoring underlying mental illness, they don’t have the necessary tools and skills to prevent an anxiety attack after rehab. 

At first glance, according to Psychiatric Times, anxiety disorders have been linked with higher lifetime rates of alcohol abuse and higher relapse rates after alcohol rehab. Part of relapse prevention in addiction treatment is to learn more about your triggers.

Most people thrive in rehab programs because they find the structure helps prevent relapse and work towards recovery. However, once they leave rehab, it can be overwhelming to manage everything. The early days of recovery are quite the challenge. The tension, stress, worries, and feelings of uneasiness triggered by anxiety can lead people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol again. 

Alcohol and drugs enhance the effects of anxiety. Suddenly, the person finds themselves walking into a vicious cycle. Once they start using alcohol or drugs again, their physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety worsen, increasing their drug or alcohol intake to function normally. This is why it’s essential to choose a dual diagnosis program to treat co-occurring disorders alongside addiction. 

Treatments for Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Thankfully, anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. Since anxiety and addiction recovery have very similar triggers, treatment helps treat both conditions simultaneously. This approach ensures a better outlook and better control of triggers, emotions, and challenges. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is by far the most commonly used treatment for substance abuse. Indeed, the idea is to address the root behavior that makes someone think about drugs. Through CBT, therapists and patients learn how to cope with stress, recognize triggers, and avoid or manage these triggers to sustain recovery. 

Another element of CBT is exposure therapy. This approach gradually exposes the person to situations or objects that cause panic attacks. Slowly, therapists show the tools necessary to manage anxiety at each stage of the process, thus helping people manage triggers better after leaving treatment. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is often used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors, teach patients skills to cope with anxiety and change unhealthy behaviors. In essence, DBT focuses on mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation.

Motivational Interviewing

Another popular approach in dual diagnosis programs is motivational interviewing (MI) therapy. This approach focuses on a person’s willingness to engage in the process of change. Even if someone decides to seek addiction or anxiety treatment, it doesn’t mean they’re ready to start changing their behavior and actions. Rather than ignoring this ambivalence, MI acknowledges it and helps people work through it. 

Breathing Training

An essential part of most alternative therapy, breathing training teaches people how to breathe deeply and practice different breathing exercises that help manage anxiety. Overall, the idea is to offer a quick and instant method to help someone become less anxious and control their reactions to a trigger. 

Mindfulness Therapy

Finally, all of these therapies are part of a more comprehensive treatment program that includes relaxation training. Mindfulness can be part of meditation, visualization techniques, and other self-soothing exercises. Through mindfulness therapy, people learn to use scents, essential oils, massage, acupuncture, and other relaxing techniques. Incorporating activities like yoga, Tai-Chi, meditation, and so forth can help maintain a calm and easy-mindedness. 

Finding Help After Rehab

Even when you have a concrete plan to identify and manage your relapse triggers, the risk is always there. Unfortunately, anywhere between 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts relapse one year after completing treatment. However, don’t let the way anxiety affects addiction recovery bring you down.

For this reason, if you struggle with relapse, it might be beneficial for you to attend an aftercare recovery program. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our substance abuse treatment programs incorporate relapse prevention techniques throughout the program, helping those in recovery build a strong support system that can help them win the battle against drug addiction.

Aftercare programs can cover things like:

  • Individual and group therapy sessions
  • 12-step group meetings and other support groups
  • Therapy with family members to promote healing
  • Training and life skills development courses
  • Relapse prevention technique classes
  • Medication-assisted therapy

Finally, don’t dismiss the importance of long-term mental health assistance. Even after you complete rehab, consider maintaining a close relationship with a therapist to continue your progress. The best way to manage how anxiety affects addiction recovery is by working on your mental health every day. As you know, addiction recovery is a lifelong journey, and investing time and effort to get better is the key to maintaining long-term sobriety. 

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