Anxiety and Substance Abuse

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Anxiety and substance abuse are both pervasive issues in the United States.

ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) reports that 40 million adults are affected by anxiety in any given year. Data from SAMHSA’s NSDUH 2020 – the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health – shows that 40 million people had substance use disorder (drug addiction) in 2020, with 28 million diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (alcoholism).

Not only are addiction and anxiety commonplace in isolation, but these conditions commonly co-occur. According to ADDA data, 20% of those with an anxiety disorder or another mood disorder have a dual diagnosis involving a co-occurring substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder.

Many people diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) self-medicate their symptoms with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs. This will not address the underpinning anxiety. Additionally, self-medication can inflame the symptoms of anxiety, while at the same time introducing another problem in the form of substance abuse.

Some people with existing anxiety disorders find that substance abuse exacerbates their symptoms. Others find that abusing alcohol or drugs subsequently triggers episodes of anxiety.

Anxiety and substance use, then, are closely interrelated.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental health disorder in the United States. Central to most anxiety disorders are irrational worries and fears persisting for six months or more.

There are several types of anxiety disorder:

  • GAD (generalized anxiety disorder): GAD triggers recurrent symptoms of worrying that result in tension and stress despite no apparent underlying cause.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, involves feelings of intense anxiety and self-consciousness in response to social situations.
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): PTSD sometimes occurs after an individual witnesses or experiences a traumatic event. PTSD symptoms can be distressing and disruptive, causing many people to self-medicate those symptoms with addictive substances.
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder): OCD is characterized by recurring unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that often trigger rituals or repetitive behaviors such as hand washing (compulsions). These rituals provide fleeting relief from the obsessive thoughts.
  • Panic disorder: Panic disorders trigger extreme fear and physical symptoms like heavy breathing, dizziness, and increased heart rate.

What Is Addiction?

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are non-clinical descriptors for alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder. All forms of substance use disorder are diagnosed using the criteria in APA’s DSM-5-TR. DSM-5-TR is the latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by APA (American Psychiatric Association). This text is considered the benchmark diagnostic tool for addictions and mental health conditions.

Addictions are diagnosed according to the number of the eleven diagnostic criteria that present as follows:

  • Mild addiction: 2 or 3 symptoms
  • Moderate addiction: 4 or 5 symptoms
  • Severe addiction: 6 or more symptoms

All addictions are characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors despite obviously negative outcomes.

There is no cure for substance use disorder and there are high relapse rates of up to 60%. That said, most addictions respond positively to a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), counseling, and psychotherapy.

What Causes Addiction and Anxiety Disorder?

Your risk profile for anxiety disorders and substance use disorders depends on many factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental cues
  • Psychological factors

Most people who have an anxiety disorder respond to stress in an unhealthy and disproportionate way. This if often due to genetic reasons beyond their control. The area of the brain charged with processing fear is acutely sensitive in those suffering from anxiety disorders.

Additionally, evidence suggests there is a link between feelings of anxiety or depression and brain neurotransmitters – chemical messengers – like cortisol and serotonin. ­

Of all contributory factors to addiction and mental health disorders, family history and genetics are perhaps the most important. Around 40% of people with GAD and 50% of people with panic disorder have some family history of these conditions, according to this study.

Beyond this, substance abuse can sometimes trigger the development of anxiety disorders. This phenomenon is known as substance-induced anxiety disorder.

Both age and gender can also influence your risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Research shows that twice as many women as men are diagnosed with anxiety disorders, according to research.

The symptoms of OCD, separation anxiety, and phobias typically first develop in youth or adolescence. The symptoms of panic disorder and social anxiety disorder usually manifest during the teenage years.

When generalized anxiety disorder and substance use disorder co-occurs, the most abused substances are as follows:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Stimulants

Anxiety Drug Addiction

An anxiety disorder usually involves symptoms that are distressing and disruptive in isolation. If addiction co-occurs with anxiety, this makes for a troubling combination.

Anxiety is a condition that impacts the CNS (central nervous system), leading to increased blood flow, accelerated heart rate, and intense neural activity.

The symptoms of anxiety are often treated with the short-term use of benzodiazepines. Regrettably, benzos have a strong potential for abuse and addiction. Alcohol, like benzos, is a depressant of the CNS, so many people looking to self-medicate anxiety seek out alcohol for these soothing properties.

Self-medicating the symptoms of anxiety with alcohol or drugs is particularly common among those with undiagnosed anxiety disorders.

Even though substance abuse and anxiety frequently co-occur, you can fight back against both conditions with the right dual diagnosis treatment.

Anxiety and Addiction Recovery

ADAA states that anxiety is treatable with the following combination of therapies:

  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Psychotherapy
  • Behavioral interventions

Some anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders include:

  • Xanax
  • Buspar
  • Zoloft
  • Pristiq
  • Lexapro
  • Celexa
  • Lexapro

All these medications can be used safely long-term except for Xanax and other benzodiazepines.

One of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for treating both addictions and anxiety disorders is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). A psychotherapist will help you to identify your triggers for unhealthy behaviors and substance abuse. The therapist will also guide you to create healthier coping strategies.

Anxiety and Addiction Recovery at Ohio

Here at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers, we specialize in dual diagnosis treatment of addictions and mental health conditions like anxiety.

Both of these disorders can play off each other, and co-occurring disorders respond most favorably to integrated and coordinated treatment.

Choose from the following services and treatment programs:

Whatever level of treatment intensity best suits your requirements, you can access evidence-based therapies at Ohio Community Health to complement medication-assisted treatment. Access the following interventions:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Psychotherapies
  • Holistic therapy

When you are ready to tackle anxiety disorder co-occurring with addiction, reach out to the friendly team online just here or call (877) 679-2132 for guidance and immediate assistance.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn