Pressure on the chest. Heartbeats heard in the ears. A cold sweat glistening on the forehead. Anxiety disorders, dysfunctions of the fight or flight response, can prove traumatic for people just trying to live their day-to-day lives. The toll this anxiety takes can wear on a person, leading to dysfunctional coping machines such as abusing drugs to the point of addiction.
Some anxiety is normal. For example, it’s routine to feel nervous when wondering about a promotion at work or studying hard for an exam. Where it reaches the point of disorder is when daily, typical tasks create an impending sense of doom to the point of pushing necessary tasks to the wayside. Intense avoidance and panic attacks are also regular symptoms of anxiety disorders. Physical symptoms vary greatly according to the individual.
These symptoms can also vary depending on the specific anxiety disorder present. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America mentions social anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder as the main kinds of anxiety disorders. Alcohol is also brought up as a common coping mechanism for these problems.
What’s especially alarming about an anxiety and alcohol abuse comorbidity is the cycle it triggers. While alcohol can have a calming effect in drinkers, the substance can also cause anxiety. Chris Lliades, M.D., agrees with this, noting that those with anxiety disorders are three times likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs.
In a clinical review published in the Psychiatric Times conducted by Joshua P. Smith, Ph.D., and Sarah W. Book, M.D., entitled “Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders: A Review,” the researchers explained a few treatment options for anxiety and substance abuse. Pharmacotherapy routes include the prescription drugs Paxil and Zoloft among others for possibly treating comorbid substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
Psychotherapy can also help individuals seek out coping mechanisms for the anxiety disorders. Therapists can find out what causes the anxiety disorder, such as prior trauma or neglect.
Fear exposure is one possible route for certain patients and particular kinds of anxiety and can be done without professional help. This helps the patient by gradually and repeatedly exposing him or herself to the object of anxiety. Medical professionals Melinda Smith, M.A., and Robert Segal, M.A., recommend the “fear ladder” in approaching a treatment plan for fear exposure.
The first step is defining the ladder. For example, if flying is the scary situation, write down all of the steps leading up to being on the plane, such as finding a flight, buying a ticket, going through security and so on. Think about the scariest steps to the easiest. Stay in each step for as long as possible, bearing through the negative feelings until they ebb away. If the situation is short, such as crossing a bridge, then do it repeatedly until the fear is over. Practice is a key component to conquering the fear for good.
Remember to back off if the fear is too overwhelming, Dr. Smith and Dr. Segal recommend. It’s okay to slow down with the mental reconditioning and also helpful to engage in relaxation techniques such as planned breathing a few times a day. Challenging negative thoughts will also pay dividends, seeing how rational and informed thoughts can overwhelm irrational (but tangible) thought processes.
Treating both anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse is a tricky proposition for a person to do on his or her own. It’s not a shame to reach out for help. The Texas Substance Abuse Helpline is a premier resource for addicts needing help on their difficult – but worthwhile – journey to permanent recovery. To find an addiction treatment specialist in Texas right away, don’t fear calling 866-971-2658.