Anxiety disorders and substance use disorders can happen to a person simultaneously. Either one can lead to the other. For example, having an anxiety disorder may make you prone to using addictive substances as a way to cope with anxiety. Conversely, having a substance use disorder may foster the development of an anxiety disorder later on.
Anxiety disorders in themselves are prevalent in the United States. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, over 18 percent of adults in the US are experiencing some form of anxiety disorder.
If you have a substance use disorder and are enrolled in rehab, is it possible to also get anxiety treatment? Read on to find out.
What is the connection between anxiety disorders and substance abuse?
Substance abuse is more widespread in people with anxiety disorders than those without them. For instance, the Psychiatric Times reports that individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to abuse alcohol and have higher rates of relapse after rehab. Also, people with anxiety disorders are more prone to experiencing more intense withdrawal symptoms.
Self-management of symptoms is a leading theory that explains the correlation between anxiety disorders and substance abuse. In other words, individuals with anxiety disorders turn to drugs in an attempt to curb anxiety symptoms. For example, if you have social anxiety, you may choose to drink alcohol before a social event so you can talk comfortably with other people. While this may be effective in the short term, you also increase your risk of developing alcohol use disorder later in life.
Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to anxiety and substance abuse. If you come from a family with a history of both these conditions, you may be more likely to develop those as well.
Additionally, if you are suffering from substance use disorder, you may experience symptoms that resemble anxiety such as agitation, nervousness, irritability, and sleeplessness. Withdrawal may also cause anxiety.
Does rehab offer anxiety treatment as well?
Some rehab facilities perform what is known as dual diagnosis. That means they treat co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety and substance use disorder, together instead of two separate conditions. Whichever happened first, they must both be treated at the same time for the best recovery outcomes.
Dual diagnosis and treatment is becoming more important these days. According to data from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 8.4 million adults in the US have co-occurring mental health problems and substance use disorders. Also, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people with substance use disorders have twice the risk of developing anxiety disorders compared to non-drug users.
If you have co-occurring conditions, most likely you will be enrolled in an inpatient rehab facility. Here, you will live in the facility for one to three months, depending on how severe your case is. It may take a lot of time, and you have to take time off from your normal routines, but being in inpatient rehab is the best treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Inpatient rehab offers 24/7 support, so in case you encounter emergencies or serious problems, you can call for help and get immediate care any time of the day. Therapies are also more intensive, and your entire stay in the rehab facility is solely focused on recovery.
Outpatient rehab is not the best option for dual diagnosis cases. These require the utmost care and attention of mental health professionals for the best chances of a full recovery.
What anxiety treatments are offered in rehab?
The kinds of treatments for anxiety in rehab facilities are similar to those performed in other settings. These include psychotherapies and medications. The latter, though, is not always necessary. Medications are only prescribed for more serious cases of anxiety.
One common and largely successful treatment for anxiety is known as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. The premise of CBT is that your thoughts about a situation determine how you feel about it, not other people or things around you. When you change your perception of otherwise anxiety-triggering situations, they will not cause you anxiety. The goal of CBT is to train you to think more positively and realistically about the things that make you anxious. Eventually, you will be able to face those situations without fear or worry.
CBT is mainly about modifying your patterns of thinking. Anxiety often stems from negative self-defeating thoughts. Once you get used to thinking of situations more positively, you will feel less anxious about them.
Therapists help you achieve this through a process called cognitive restructuring. Suppose that you have social anxiety, and you do not like attending meetings at work. Your thoughts about it may be along the lines of, “My boss and my colleagues will judge me for the way I speak. I don’t want to talk in any meeting.”
Your therapist will then tell you to consider an alternative situation — that your boss and your colleagues will not judge you; instead, they will listen to what you will say. You and your therapist will then discuss which of these scenarios are more grounded in reality.
Once you realize that it’s more likely that your boss and your colleagues will listen to you instead of judging you, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable about attending meetings. This is not an instant change, though. It will take a few sessions of CBT to train your brain to think more positively and realistically.
To help you overcome anxiety further, your therapist will also teach you coping skills and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing. As you approach situations that cause you to feel anxious, breathing well can calm you down significantly.
Aside from helping you improve symptoms of anxiety, the skills you will learn in CBT will also prove useful in overcoming substance use disorder. These new skills allow you to actively avoid drugs in spite of tempting situations.