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Sobriety and Anxiety: Dealing With Anxiety During Recovery

Anxiety is a psychological disorder characterized by excessive worrying, stress, and intrusive thoughts. Stress is healthy to some extent. But people dealing with the combination of sobriety anxiety experience a level of stress that can negatively affect their journey to recovery.

This can lead to using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Alternatively, an alcohol or substance use disorder might lead to an anxiety disorder because of a psychological dependence. Regardless of which came first, living with anxiety during recovery poses a unique set of problems to overcome. 

A dual diagnosis is when a person suffers from multiple health disorders. It’s also known as a co-occurring disorder or comorbidity. Recovering addicts suffering from an additional health disorder, like a mental illness, must seek out dual diagnosis treatment to fully recover. 

The Facts About Sobriety and Anxiety 

Research indicates that substance use disorders and anxiety disorders commonly occur together. Also, they both affect millions of Americans every year. The lifetime rate of substance use disorders in the United States is about 29%. In comparison, the lifetime rate of Americans suffering from an anxiety disorder is 14.6%. Yet, almost 18% of individuals suffering from a substance use disorder met the criteria for an anxiety disorder as well. 

Additional statistics about anxiety and addiction reveal that an anxiety disorder precedes 57%-80% of alcohol use disorders and up to 100% of substance use disorders. So it might be easy to say that everyone with addiction had or has an anxiety disorder. However, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Studies find that withdrawal symptoms may mimic anxiety. 

With this in mind, it’s crucial to see if a recovering addict is completely through their withdrawal stage to assess whether or not they’re truly suffering from a type of anxiety disorder. There are five main types of anxiety disorders. 

5 Main Types of Anxiety Disorders 

  1. General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Characterized by chronic stress and worry without any real cause, GAD commonly co-occurs with substance use disorders. 
  2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Usually, PTSD results from a serious traumatic incident, like domestic abuse or war. Those with PTSD may relive painful memories and avoid certain situations to avoid emotional turmoil. 
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – People with OCD have obsessions (intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive behaviors). They will give in to compulsions in an attempt to stop the obsessions. Compulsions are often called rituals and may involve constant checking and counting. One study found that around 4% of people with OCD also suffered from a substance use disorder. 
  4. Panic Disorder – This is another mental illness that commonly co-occurs with substance use disorders. Characteristics include stressful, physical symptoms, like feeling dizzy, short of breath, and in pain.
  5. Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) – Those who suffer from social anxiety disorder excessively worry about social situations. This could include speaking at a public event or eating in front of others. In extreme cases, those suffering from a social phobia may feel stressed out in the company of others as a whole. 

7 Ways To Deal With the Combination of Sobriety and Anxiety 

1. Use Supplements and Vitamins To Help Cope With Anxiety 

Certain vitamins and supplements can help people suffering from anxiety. One study indicated that several natural supplements have promising results. The study found that excessively stressed people could benefit from taking: 

  • Passionflower: A climbing vine that blooms with purple flowers 
  • Kava: Supplements are made from the root of this plant that is said to increase the amount of GABA in the brain 
  • L-lysine: An amino acid that is essential for brain and body health 
  • L-arginine: An amino acid that helps build protein and increase blood flow 

There are other supplements out there that may help with mental health. Magnesium is one of them, but more studies must be done to determine it. These supplements have the ability to naturally help anxious minds with fewer side effects. Though, it’s important to check with a medical professional just in case. 

2. Essential Oils Can Help 

Essential oils are another form of holistic treatment to help manage unwarranted stress during recovery. Aromatherapy has a basis in ancient practices that are still used today. There are many pleasant essential oils to choose from that can help with multiple kinds of mental illnesses. 

Some studies cite these essential oils for better mental health: 

  • Orange Oil 
  • Bergamont 
  • Lavender 
  • Jatamansi 

People can put essential oil in a diffuser or inhale it on a handkerchief. One study found that patients who inhaled orange oil for 15-20 minutes a few times a week reported less anxiety overall. Participants soaked a handkerchief in the oil and then inhaled it. Certain essential oils, like Jatamansi, increase the brain’s chemical production. Jatamansi theoretically increases GABA production. 

3. Reduce Screen Time 

Truth be told, more screen time typically means a higher risk of mental illness. Research suggests that people who spend lots of time on a computer, phone, or tablet have worse mental health. With this, every hour of screen time has shown to hurt psychological well-being. 

It’s no secret that social media can hurt a person’s mental health. People fabricate and post the best parts of their life on social media. This can make a person feel worse about their own life, even though most of what they’re looking at is not exactly the most accurate representation of individuals’ lives. Spend as little as you can using screens to keep stress at bay. 

4. Stop Smoking Cigarettes

Contrary to what smokers may believe, smoking cigarettes has shown to increase stress. One study found that smokers become more stressed because of their nicotine dependency. Nicotine is a highly-addictive stimulant drug that relaxes people but only in the short-term. 

Participants of the study were more stressed out overall in between cigarette use than when they stopped smoking. Many addiction treatment centers allow patients to smoke cigarettes. However, substituting one addiction for another can do more harm than good. 

5. Limit How Much News You Watch 

Being an informed citizen is a good thing. But it becomes a bad thing for mental health after a certain point. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) advises people to limit the amount of news they watch. This applies to any media source (ie: social media and news stations). If there is nothing to gain by paying attention to the news, skip it. 

ADAA recommends muting notifications and checking news outlets quickly a few times a day at most. They also write that it’s crucial to only tune into credible news sources. They’re more likely to provide factual information without hyping it up. 

6. Avoid Communication with Toxic Friends and Family 

Friends and family are people to lean on during tough times, including throughout recovery from addiction. However, friends and family members can sometimes be toxic. It’s understandable when a loved one gets upset over an addiction. At the same time, an alcohol or substance use disorder is a medical condition. If anyone, friend or family, makes you feel less than human, it’s time to cut them out. 

On the other hand, toxic people might encourage a recovering addict to drink or do drugs. Both kinds of people will ultimately make an anxiety disorder worse. It can hurt to cut ties with people that you love, but recovery comes first. If they’re interested in your wellbeing then they will understand your boundaries. 

7. Try Mind-Body Exercises 

Exercise is a powerful way to soothe an anxious mind. The brain rewards the body with feel-good chemicals when a person exercises. Mind-body exercises are even better at helping with anxiety. Some examples of mind-body exercises include: 

  • Yoga 
  • Tai Chi 
  • Qi Gong 
  • Pilates 

These kinds of exercises are known as moving meditation. They help calm the body, mind, and soul. The practices learned within these promote good physical health and mindfulness, which helps with mental health. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Coping With Severe Anxiety and Addiction 

Living with an anxiety disorder and an addiction can complicate recovery. Dealing with one health issue but not the other can mean ineffective treatment in the long term. A comprehensive plan requires dual diagnosis treatment. An addiction treatment center that specializes in co-occurring disorders treatment makes sure to look at a patient’s mental and physical health as a whole. 

Medication-assisted treatment helps patients with a co-occurring disorder get the help they need. A person with an anxiety disorder may be prescribed a non-addictive anxiety medication to treat their mental illness. Neglecting mental health can increase the chance of relapse and self-medicating. Also, psychotherapy plays a necessary role in addiction treatment. 

Therapy For Addicts Coping With Severe Anxiety 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT for short, helps patients living with an anxiety disorder. It makes patients aware of the harmful thoughts that lead to negative behaviors. For instance, a person may subconsciously have thoughts that lower their self-esteem. CBT helps them identify thoughts like this, and change them in the future.  

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Another popular form of therapy is dialectical behavior therapy, aka DBT. This school of thought builds on CBT theory with more of an emphasis on stopping behaviors, rather than thoughts. Therapists who specialize in DBT validate patient’s thoughts and actions while guiding them toward the truth of a situation. Dialectical behavior therapy is known to help people with severe mental illnesses, like those who self-harm. 

Harmony Place Helps Patients Coping With Severe Anxiety 

Coping with severe anxiety can make you feel crazy. Addiction can make you feel alone. No one deserves to feel either, especially when they’re dealing with a dual diagnosis. Harmony Place provides more than addiction treatment in Los Angeles, CA. We also provide a strong support network to turn to when you need it most. Contact us now to join the Harmony Place family.