People with anxiety disorders are more likely to abuse alcohol or other substances than people in the general public. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, this risk is double or triple that of those without anxiety disorders.
People with anxiety disorders may use alcohol and other substances as a way of "self-medicating" to feel better, reduce the symptoms of anxiety or because they feel it may help them through a stressful situation.
But often, alcohol or other substances can increase the number of anxiety attacks someone has. Some experts think that the withdrawal of alcohol can trigger anxiety symptoms. This can cause people to enter into a cycle of anxiety, drinking to relieve symptoms, then increased anxiety symptoms, which may lead to more drinking.
Kathleen Brady, M.D. PhD [Anxiety and Substance Abuse] recommends using non-pharmacological treatments in cases of co-existing substance abuse and anxiety. Coping strategies and cognitive-behavioral therapies can instead be utilized to help people manage the daily symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Taking medications, along with alcohol, can cause serious side effects and can be dangerous in some cases. Additionally, those with alcohol or other substance abuse histories may be more at risk for abuse of the medication prescribed to help them.
However, if medication is needed, the serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be the best choice. These medications have a low abuse potential and have been tested to treat alcohol abuse as well as depression and anxiety. Some people have experienced a reduction of both depression and alcohol consumption when taking SSRIs. Additionally, these medications are safe if taken in combination with alcohol.
Treatment is available for both anxiety and substance abuse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to improve symptoms of anxiety by slowly exposing someone to the situation or event that is triggering anxiety symptoms. This therapy is continued until the anxiety is lessened. In conjunction with this, talk-therapy is incorporated into treatment to treat the alcohol or substance abuse.
With the help of professionals, people with a dual diagnosis of anxiety and substance abuse can be treated and have a full and productive life. If you, or someone you know, are having a hard time with substance abuse and anxiety, please talk with a medical professional to receive help.