Affecting an average of 18.1 percent of adults living in the US, chronic persistent anxiety and anxiety disorders are characterized by restlessness and worry that is seemingly “out of nowhere,” or without cause. For those suffering from anxiety, it is a constant struggle to feel comfortable or “normal.” When you compare the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders with the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawals, a very clear relationship develops between anxiety and addiction.
Similarities between Anxiety and Drug
and Alcohol Withdrawals
The medical community has recognized the incontrovertible evidence that anxiety and drug and alcohol withdrawals are both very similar in nature. In fact, when addicts are within their first year of recovery, there may come a time – often around six months to a year of sobriety – when the individual starts to get feelings of anxiety and wonders, “Is this just an anxiety attack, or are my withdrawal symptoms returning?”
The likely answer, in most cases, is usually both. In the first year of sobriety, coming off drugs and alcohol, it is not unusual to have bouts and flare-ups of withdrawal symptoms from time-to-time. These attacks are usually short, intense, and often have weeks or months between any episodes – mimicking non drug-related anxiety attacks. This is opposed to the peak severe withdrawals one goes through during the initial detox and withdrawals of the first few weeks and months of cessation of drugs and alcohol.
Drug and Alcohol Use Can Cause Anxiety
It is a fact that the use and abuse of illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol can cause anxiety in numerous ways. The use of cocaine – even in small amounts usually gives users slight anxiety as the drug enters the bloodstream, and this anxious feeling is part of the “high” that the drug user gets. Marijuana-induced “paranoia” is nothing more than anxiety and the body’s reaction to the chemicals in the bloodstream. That all-too-familiar hangover you get after a night of too many drinks also usually comes with shakiness and worrisome feeling that is attributed to anxiety. All of these chemicals cause very mild symptoms of anxiety when they are used, and while these symptoms may be slightly uncomfortable for a moment, are not usually alarming to the individuals experiencing them. However, the more an individual uses drugs and alcohol, and over longer periods of time, those mild symptoms of anxiety build up over time, and anxiety becomes a not uncommon response by the body.
The Cycle of Anxiety and Addiction
We had previously stated that the use of drugs and alcohol causes mild bouts of anxiety during their use, and that it is often so mild that it is not worrisome. Coming off of drugs and alcohol, however, causes anxiety that is much more intense, and can be very worrisome.
For an addict experiencing feelings of dread, panic, trouble breathing, and experiencing pains and feelings similar to a heart attack are often too painful to experience, and will use drugs or alcohol again to battle back these feelings of extreme anxiety. And usually, the drugs and alcohol do work, and the intense anxiety subsides into the milder, less intense sense of discomfort – rather than fear. However, the anxiety never fully went away, the core problem was never sufficiently addressed, and the intense anxiety will come back the next time the individual tapers off of drugs or alcohol. This is the beginning of the anxiety-addiction cycle.
Anxiety Addiction Cycle with Alcohol Use
Alcohol is a chemical with broad potential for abuse, and in modern addiction studies have been referred to as the most dangerous drug known to man, and “worse than heroin” by some. The seriousness of alcohol abuse cannot be overstated – alcohol is addictive, does significant damage to all of the organs and tissues of the body, can lead to death, and is a major contributor to anxiety and panic disorders in those that abuse it.
Alcohol abuse is also one of the most obvious examples of the continuation of the cycle of anxiety and addiction. Anxiety is one of the main symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, characterized by long anxiety and panic attacks that are intense and worrisome. Even withdrawals from smaller amounts of alcohol – seen in next-day hangovers – can be quite severe. A common term in popular culture, “hair of the dog that bit you” is the practice of consuming alcohol the morning after drinking to “lessen” the negative effects of the hangover – hangover, being mild withdrawal symptoms. Moderate to severe alcoholics often continue this cycle for days, weeks or months allowing the addiction to feed the anxiety, and the anxiety feeds the addiction.
Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety and Addiction
Now that we understand just how individuals get caught up in the cycle of addiction and anxiety, the obvious question is now, “how does one break the cycle of anxiety without suffering through the anxiety and withdrawals?”
Vitamins and Nutrition to Combat Anxiety and Withdrawals
While withdrawal symptoms can never be completely avoided during the detoxification from certain drugs and alcohol, many forms of detox can make the anxiety and withdrawals less intense, and more tolerable when beginning addiction recovery. Firstly, proper nutrition during detox and recovery is an integral part of ensuring a more tolerable detox. Much of the anxiety and symptoms of withdrawal stem from malnutrition due to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and deficiencies of vitamins and enzymes in the body during the detoxification period. Replenishing the vitamins and nutrients to the body before detox can make the process less intense and a bit more comfortable.
Certain drugs and alcohol can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that can be deadly, and therefore these chemicals cannot be stopped “cold turkey,” but rather have to be tapered off of – preferably in a safe and medically supervised environment. Alcohol and benzodiazepines especially need to be tapered off of, and the anxiety during detox for these two chemicals is known to be some of the most intense of any particular chemicals.
When Does Anxiety Stop For Recovering Addicts?
While it is expected that anxiety will reduce incrementally the longer an addict has been recovering, the exact timelines for this differ between the types of chemicals abused, the length of time abusing, and health history and underlying conditions. Remember that there is substance-induced anxiety, and there is anxiety disorders – the former caused directly by drug use, and the latter caused by underlying health conditions. If anxiety symptoms persist or increase, you may need to check with your doctor to find the underlying cause for the anxiety – which could be related to vitamin deficiencies, depression and mental health issues, or other health conditions.
Anxiety can be one of the most frightening and distressful symptoms recovery from chemical dependence and it is all too easy to let this fear derail your hopes and plans for recovery. However, it is so crucial for those suffering from addiction to know that the anxiety will subside, and you will feel better, more comfortable, full of life, and at ease when finally make the change towards sobriety.
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