Anxiety is a normal emotion. Anxiety results from your brain and stress response systems reacting to an event that causes worry or fear. Anxiety is how your brain communicates that there is a potential danger you should be aware of and may need to address. Everyone experiences anxiety symptoms occasionally, especially when faced with a problem or an important decision. Occasional anxiety is OK; however, chronic anxiety and excessive worrying are not.
What Happens When You Suffer from Excessive Worrying?
We all worry about things on occasion. But some people worry excessively. We worry because we feel a sense of uncertainty or unease about a particular situation. When someone worries excessively, it can send their mind spiraling down a list of “what ifs,” which can eventually have dangerous outcomes.
Excessive worrying can lead to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Often, people who struggle with frequent excessive worrying develop anxiety disorders. When people with anxiety feel they cannot control their emotions, they may experience panic attacks and other severe anxiety symptoms. Others who struggle with excessive, chronic worry may struggle with unrealistic fear that only worsens their worry.
Excessive worry inevitably has a harmful impact on your day-to-day life. In some instances, chronic worry may become so debilitating that it takes over and interferes with your relationships, sleep, diet, and work. It is not uncommon for someone who struggles with excessive worry to experience physical and psychological ailments. Another common challenge of excessive worry is substance use and abuse.
Excessive Worry and Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are separate and distinct from the ordinary, everyday anxiety that many people experience due to day-to-day stressors. Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause constant and overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear. This excessive anxiety can cause those who struggle with it to avoid situations that cause these emotions. This can mean avoiding going to work, school, family events, and other social conditions that may trigger (or worsen) anxiety symptoms. There are several types of anxiety (or anxiety disorder diagnoses), many of which can evolve out of excessive worrying.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when one feels excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason behind or in support of their emotions.
With panic disorders, people often feel a sudden, intense fear that brings about a panic attack. During a panic attack, you may experience chest pains, accelerated heartbeat, heart palpitations, and break out in a sweat. During a severe panic attack, symptoms may be overwhelming enough to make you feel like you are choking or having a heart attack.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorders or social phobias are a type of anxiety that occurs because you feel excessive or feel self-conscious about everyday situations that require being in a social setting. When someone has social anxiety, they worry excessively about how others perceive them. They may believe others are judging them or fear being embarrassed publicly.
Specific phobias are when someone feels excessive worrying about exposure to a particular object or trigger. Common examples include phobias of spiders or water. The worry that accompanies a specific phobia far exceeds what is typical or expected in these situations. A phobia can cause you to actively avoid situations or obligations that might bring you face to face with your fear.
Separation anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that occurs when one feels excessive worry about what may or could happen if a loved one leaves. Separation anxiety is common in children and pets; however, teens and adults experience it as well. When you struggle with separation anxiety, you feel scared or anxious when someone you care for is out of sight. Separation anxiety leads to excessive worrying and fear until that person returns.
According to the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, there are other types of anxiety disorders, such as selective mutism and medication-induced anxiety disorder. However, the above-listed ones tend to be the most common ones we hear about when discussing anxiety. The main symptom of an anxiety disorder is excessive fear or worry. The specific symptoms someone experiences will depend on the type of anxiety disorder they have.
Physical and Emotional Effects of Anxiety
Unlike the flu or an ear infection, anxiety is not a specific diagnosis. Instead, anxiety disorders are a group of conditions with both unique and related symptoms. The most common symptom present across all types of anxiety is excessive worrying or fear in or about unthreatening situations. People with anxiety experience a range of emotional and physical symptoms. Common emotional symptoms may include restlessness, irritability, feelings of dread, feeling “jumpy” or tense, and being hypervigilant (always on the lookout for danger). Physical symptoms of anxiety may include shortness of breath, racing heart rate, sweating, fatigue, insomnia, headache, and stomach disturbances.
Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed illness in America. Studies show up to 19% of adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety, like addiction, is a highly treatable diagnosis. However, (also like substance use disorders), only a few who could successfully overcome their symptoms seek the help they need to begin their recovery. Data from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) suggests less than 37% of people with anxiety disorder get treatment.
Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders
Depending on the severity of anxiety symptoms, people often turn to a range of self-medication options to help them relax, including drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, chronic drug or alcohol abuse can lead to various mental health conditions, including new or worsening anxiety symptoms. In fact, studies have proven that someone struggling with a substance use disorder also has difficulties recovering from trauma which can lead to anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Using alcohol or drugs when you struggle with anxiety often worsens your symptoms.
Drugs or alcohol increase the levels of certain chemicals in your body. Two neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, are significantly affected by substance use. The temporary increase in these chemicals that results from substance use provides a brief sense of calm, happiness, and relaxation. In the short-term, substance use can alleviate many anxiety symptoms. However, once substances wear off, the effects of anxiety, including fear and excessive worrying, return. This is often referred to as substance-induced anxiety.
Substance-induced anxiety is quite common as many people use substances to manage anxiety symptoms. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates approximately 7% of Americans have substance-induced anxiety.
Excessive worrying from social anxiety triggers can also lead to struggles with using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. The same report from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates more than 20% of those who struggle with a social anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. When worry from social anxiety becomes overwhelming, drugs and alcohol quickly become a coping tool to feel more comfortable in a social environment. Drugs and alcohol often help to reduce feelings of worry and increase social capabilities.
Overcoming co-occurring anxiety and addiction is a challenging journey. Research suggests the most effective way to overcome the symptoms of both conditions is to seek help from a treatment center specializing in the treatment of co-occurring disorders. At a dual-diagnosis treatment center like The Hills, specialists trained in treating co-occurring conditions will help you learn how to manage your anxiety in a healthier and safer way, without drugs or alcohol.
Treating Co-Occurring Addiction and Anxiety
When you struggle with the symptoms of a substance use disorder and anxiety simultaneously (at the same time), it is called a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis condition. Data from several surveys indicate up to half of those with a mental health condition (diagnosed or undiagnosed) also meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder.
Similar statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) suggest more than 8.5 million American adults (or 4% of the population) over the age of eighteen struggled with a dual diagnosis in 2017. Dual diagnosis conditions such as alcohol or drug addiction and anxiety disorders share many symptoms in common. Therefore, the best way to assure positive treatment outcomes is to choose a rehab program where dual diagnosis treatment is offered.
In our dual diagnosis treatment program at The Hills, our caring and compassionate treatment team will work closely with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses all of your physical and emotional treatment needs. We base our treatment programs on proven, evidence-based therapy techniques to help you learn more about identifying and changing the feelings and behaviors that worsen harmful and addictive behaviors like using alcohol to self-medicate.
Another significant benefit to choosing a dual-diagnosis treatment program is learning how to identify triggers. When you have an anxiety disorder, everyday situations such as work or socializing can trigger excessive worrying. Learning how to manage triggering places, people, or events without using alcohol is vital for recovery from both an anxiety disorder and a substance use disorder. Learning about practicing healthy coping tools you can use for future trigger management is an essential part of maintaining lasting sobriety and relief from anxiety symptoms.
If you or a loved one has a dual diagnosis like anxiety and drug or alcohol addiction, seeking dual diagnosis treatment is essential to overcoming symptoms and achieving lasting health and wellness. Seeking help for your symptoms and completing a dual diagnosis treatment program is also vital for ongoing relapse prevention. Because not every mental health or addiction treatment program specializes in dual diagnosis care, it is crucial to find the right program where therapy will meet all of your treatment needs. To learn more about how dual diagnosis treatment can help you manage excessive worrying and substance use, contact us at The Hills in Los Angeles today.