Substance Abuse and Anxiety

Substance Abuse and Anxiety


Anxiety is a condition that affects many people all over the world. It can be mild and manageable, making a person feel nervous about a situation or place. Or it can be severe and crippling with a person unable to get out of bed, attend work or social functions or perform seemingly normal tasks. Untreated, the condition can become worse in some people. It can take over their whole lives and impact on relationships and jobs.

Anxiety can be defined as a mood condition that is related to situations or events that a person feels unable to cope with. It is the body’s normal reaction to stress. Anxiety is characterized by physical and psychological manifestations which can be mild or extreme. Most people suffer from anxiety at some point in their life which is characterized by stress, fear or worry; but it becomes an abnormal reaction when these feelings are intense, irrational and excessive.

The physical manifestations of anxiety can include tension, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations and headaches. People often report an increase in sweat, trembling and an impending sense of fear of dread. Emotionally, a person may feel intense feelings of apprehension, irritability, and irrational fear; and it is often stated that a feeling of a blank mind, or nothingness is felt. Many people also state they believe they are going to die or suffer from a heart attack.

Anxiety and Alcohol

Many people use alcohol as a tool to calm their feelings and reactions under times of stress or anxiety. It has been shown that alcohol has an anxiolytic effect and is used by many as a type of medication for anxiety. People who feel anxiety in certain situations or in social settings often use alcohol to feel more in control of their fears or emotions. They will often binge drink to feel like they fit in.

Self-medicating anxiety with alcohol simply reinforces negative drinking behaviors and increases dependence. Some individuals also suffer from alcohol-induced anxiety disorder which is characterized by the same feelings as normal anxiety but is directly related to withdrawal from alcohol. A person may suffer alcohol induced anxiety when they are not drinking, when they are drinking, or after they have consumed alcohol.

Anxiety and Drug Abuse

As with alcohol, some people use drugs to alleviate the effects of anxiety. Drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine are often used to relieve social anxieties, boost confidence and increase sociability. But taking drugs in this way or for this reason does little to heal a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder. It can also lead to a dependency on the drug to function in a social setting or work setting or life in general.

Many people experience anxiety as a result of stopping drug use. Heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine all are known to cause people to feel both depression and anxiety. These feelings can last for days or weeks at a time and significantly contribute to the rate of relapse a person will have.

Treatments for Anxiety

Individuals who have an anxiety disorder should have treatment with drugs that are suitable for the condition. Treating the condition while giving treatment for the alcohol problems will improve the outcomes of other therapies and the quality of life.

The term anxiolytic refers to medication that is prescribed to treat anxiety and anxiety disorders. There are a number of drug families in this group which include benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, barbiturates and herbal treatments. Anxiolytics have been found to provide some benefit to individuals who suffer from alcohol issues and have an anxiety disorder.

Benzodiazepines have been found can help alleviate the crippling effects of severe anxiety and are the most commonly prescribed. Valium, Xanax and Librium are the most well known of the benzodiazepines. When taken, benzodiazepines make a person feel relaxed, calm and sometimes hypnotic. They can be prescribed during alcohol withdrawal or detox as they reduce the levels of agitation, insomnia and anxiety.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI’s are a popular and commonly prescribed type of antidepressants that have effective anxiolytic effects when they are prescribed in a high dose. Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro are the most commonly prescribed SSRI’s.