What is the relationship between substance use and anxiety?
It might be surprising to learn that the combination of anxiety and substance use is one of the most common types of dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is when both substance use disorder and a form of mental illness—such as anxiety—are present at the same time. There are several reasons why substance use disorders are more prevalent in those with anxiety, or vice versa.
An Effort to Control Symptoms
Anxiety disorders can create both physical and psychological symptoms that can impact daily life. Depressants, such as certain drugs and alcohol, can be misused to control or suppress these symptoms, including:
Feelings of fear or extreme worry
Unwanted or racing thoughts
Chest pains or palpitations
Some individuals may use drugs or alcohol to self-manage the adverse symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
A Link Between Chemical Imbalances
Chemical imbalances in the brain like low levels of serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine, may also be underlying factors in anxiety conditions and are also linked to substance use disorder. When "feel good" chemicals such as serotonin or dopamine are low, substances like opioids artificially manipulate these levels. When an individual with anxiety disorder routinely manages their chemical imbalance using drugs, this cycle can create a dependency.
A Genetic Vulnerability
Recent evidence has shown that both anxiety disorders and substance use share a genetic component. What this means is that when someone in your family has experienced a mental or substance use disorder, you are more prone to developing these conditions yourself.
Of course, there is no guarantee that if your parent has one of these conditions that you will, too. However, if there is a family history, consider monitoring your moods or reliance on substances and speak to someone if you become concerned.
An Effect of Withdrawal or Substance Use
The use of drugs or alcohol can cause symptoms similar to anxiety, such as irritability, paranoia, and trouble concentrating. When withdrawing from substances, chemical levels in the brain also become severely unbalanced.
Individuals who have stopped the use of drugs can experience insomnia, restlessness, and anxiety as a result of withdrawal. When they do not seek treatment and, instead, use substances to self-medicate, this cycle continues.
Dual diagnoses such as anxiety and substance use are treatable with the help of a trusted physician or care center. If you or a loved one is struggling with either or both problems, reach out today for help.