People who struggle with untreated anxiety often try to “self-medicate” the symptoms away by using drugs and alcohol. These individuals tend to use mind-altering substances to “take the edge off” or numb their anxiety.
Young adults with panic and social anxiety disorders are especially likely to develop alcohol dependence and abuse problems. About 10 to 20 percent of people with panic disorders abuse alcohol or other drugs (more are just frequent users), with the vast majority reporting that the panic disorder triggered the substance abuse. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also a predictor of substance abuse.
While most people with anxiety report that self-medication helps reduce panic or severe anxiety in the moment, alcohol and drug use can make anxiety worse over time.
Substance abuse can trigger more anxiety by stressing social relationships, threatening job security or academic performance, and by causing body systems to become overactive and brain chemicals to become further unbalanced. The anxiety caused by substance abuse patterns then triggers the need to further self-medicate, completing the self-destructive cycle of “comorbid” disorders.
The intertwined nature of anxiety and substance abuse makes treatment extremely difficult. Substance abuse decreases the effectiveness of anxiety treatment, and this dual diagnosis also increases risk of suicide. Substance abuse can also trigger more severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia.
Dual diagnosis anxiety and substance abuse patients are often unpredictable and volatile. People with anxiety disorders have a higher rate of relapse and more severe withdrawal symptoms. The “12 Step Program” and other traditional substance abuse programs are also less effective in this population.
As such, any treatment program considered for this population must be prepared for, and have expertise in, dual diagnosis cases. An integrated approach that incorporates talk therapy with experiential, nature-based therapy can have a higher rate of success than other single-approach programs.
It is best not to delay treatment for severe anxiety. Especially in these cases of dual diagnosis, the sooner treatment is started, the more effective it is likely to be. If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety, remember that asking for help is the first step to recovery.
If you want more information on anxiety and anxiety disorders and how to manage them, download our free white paper “Young Adult Anxiety”.
This white paper was sponsored by Pure Life Aspiro, a research-based Wilderness Adventure Therapy program for young adults, located in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Pure Life by Aspiro offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for young adults.