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Why High Anxiety and Substance Abuse Never Mix

by Melissa Bell
4 minutes read

Do you suffer from anxiety? If so, have you ever wondered if your anxiety could actually be putting you at risk for substance abuse?

When we think about people who use drugs or alcohol, we may not automatically associate them with people who experience high levels of anxiety. But the truth is that many people who suffer from anxiety also tend to abuse substances to cope.

This tendency to use substances as a way of coping with anxiety is dangerous. Not only is it a risk factor for addiction, but it can lead to an increased risk of overdose. Since so many people may be unaware they are at risk for overdosing, it’s important to understand why anxiety can lead people to abuse drugs and how this behavior puts them in danger.

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What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders, also referred to as anxiety conditions and mental illnesses, are health conditions that cause people to feel disturbed.

Anxiety disorders can affect people of any age, even children and adolescents. In fact, over 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder every year. Women have a slightly higher chance of developing an anxiety disorder than men do.

Many different types of anxiety can affect humans depending on the individual, but some of the most common forms include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias.

People who suffer from an anxiety disorder often feel stressed out frequently because they are unable to control their anxiety symptoms. These symptoms can make it difficult for them to focus or function properly in their daily lives.

Why Some People Suffer from Anxiety Disorders

So why exactly do some people develop these anxiety disorders while other people don’t?

One of the reasons why some people develop an anxiety disorder may be because they experienced something traumatic during their lives. For example, some people who suffer from PTSD may have witnessed or experienced a terrorist attack. Other people may develop an anxiety disorder after experiencing physical or emotional abuse, the death of someone close to them, moving to a new country, or going through a divorce.

If someone has a family member who suffers from an anxiety disorder may be at risk for developing an anxiety condition as well. Those people may also be genetically predisposed to experience heightened levels of fear and nervousness as well, regardless of whether or not they experienced any traumatic events during their lives.

The connection between anxiety and substance abuse

People who experience heightened levels of anxiety may think using drugs or drinking is a good way to relax, but substance use only exacerbates the problem it’s trying to fix.

When someone drinks or uses drugs in an effort to ease their anxiety, they may end up experiencing more arousal. Alcohol and other substances can cause the heart rate of people who use them to increase, which means their bodies are reacting as if they were stressed out about something even though they’re not. This reaction only makes anxiety worse.

In other words, using drugs or alcohol when you’re feeling anxious is only going to make it harder for your brain and body to calm down. This difficulty calming down is going to lead to a number of risks, including increased risk for panic attacks and respiratory depression.

Panic Attacks and Respiratory Depression

A large part of the problem with using drugs or alcohol to manage anxiety is that it can cause both panic attacks and respiratory depression.

A panic attack can occur when someone feels as though they aren’t getting enough oxygen. While a panic attack can be a frightening experience, it’s not dangerous in and of itself.

However, adding drugs or alcohol to the mix could potentially lead to respiratory depression, which is a serious medical emergency that can lead to fatal consequences.

Final thoughts

Substance abuse can make anxiety worse, which may be why some people who use drugs or alcohol develop an addiction to them as well. No matter how much you think using substances will help your anxious feelings, you have to remember that it’s only going to make things harder for both your mind and body in the long run.

There are healthier alternatives that you can use to manage your anxiety. Some of these include cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness techniques, and herbal remedies.

Before you try anything else, consider speaking to your doctor about the best treatment options. The earlier you seek help for your anxiety disorder and substance abuse problems, the better chance you’ll have at reducing withdrawal symptoms and getting control over both conditions.

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