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What to Do When Anxiety Fuels Addiction

by Landmark Recovery

April 1, 2019
A young man undergoing a therapy session

Substance abuse and mental health issues like anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, showing us why it’s so important to help people deal with these problems together. According to the National institute on Mental Health, over 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, making it more common than any other type of mental illness. Clinical anxiety can cause some people to turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with symptoms. In fact, it is estimated that individuals with anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from substance abuse issues as the general population. This type of self-medication only winds up causing more harm in the end because drugs and alcohol worsen the psychological symptoms of anxiety, creating a self-reinforcing loop that can wreak havoc on a person’s life and create a serious addiction.

If you or a loved one suffer from an anxiety disorder, it is important to find clinical help and to avoid the pitfalls of self-medication. Self-medication to treat anxiety disorders can start with something as small as a few drinks and develop into a full-blown dependency. Using substances as a means to cope with something like an anxiety disorder will gradually result in a tolerance to the substance and eventually an addiction. Here are some ways to address someone’s problems with anxiety and addiction.

Find Therapy

A woman talks to a therapist about her anxiety fueled addiction. Find Therapy When Anxiety Fuels Addiction

Treating your addiction will not eliminate your anxiety disorder and vice versa, so it’s necessary that both are treated in tandem through a holistic program. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is highly treatable through a combination of therapy, behavioral modification exercises, and anti-anxiety medications. One of the most effective forms of therapy for the dual diagnosis of addiction and anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. Through CBT, patients learn ways of identifying and dismantling self-defeating behaviors and thoughts that cause them anxiety. Patients are taught how to develop coping strategies that don’t involve substance abuse and develop recovery goals that create long-term structure and hope for recovery.

Seeking Safety

Past traumas or stressors commonly link to anxiety disorders. Harvard Medical School studies show that up to 34% of males and 59% of females in residential treatment programs also qualify for a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thankfully, several specialized treatment programs exist to help those grappling with anxiety disorders and past trauma achieve sobriety. One such program, Seeking Safety, uses an integrated approach to treat addiction and PTSD. It emphasizes managing your disorder, reducing self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, and promoting positive, life-affirming views.

Talk to Loved Ones

Young women talking about anxiety and addiction

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to bring it into the light and discuss it openly. Talking to a family member or friend about anxiety and addiction can be challenging because it may involve feelings of shame. However, hoping they will resolve on their own will not actually get them resolved. Talk with your loved ones about their or your own struggles with addiction and anxiety. Simply having the discussion and knowing that someone supports you could be the motivation to get someone to take the next step in seeking recovery.

A few tips to keep in mind when discussing anxiety and addiction with a loved one are to take a compassionate approach, remember that addiction is a disease and anxiety is a disorder, and to be prepared for denial or refusal to seek help. It also helps to focus on the positive benefits that treatment could bring rather than the negative consequences of the person’s substance abuse.

Seek Clinical Professional

If you believe that you or a loved one has a substance use disorder and mental health problem, then you may want to enlist the help of a clinical professional. To receive the official dual diagnosis you will need to meet the criteria as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and have a qualified psychiatrist, physician, psychologist, counselor, or therapist clinically diagnose you. Getting tested early can help you in the long run by allowing doctors to create an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Addiction is a progressive disease that will only worsen and exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety, which could result in worse health complications or even overdose and death. If you or a loved one are worried about someone you know is using then a drug test is always a good option before considering treatment. It is better to find treatment sooner than later when it comes to addressing any type of dual diagnosis for mental health and addiction. The solution to anxiety and substance abuse lies in holistic recovery programs and integrated services that address both aspects of the dual diagnosis, providing a well-rounded foundation for recovery in the long term.

3 Proven Ways to De-Stress Without Medication

A stethoscope used by a doctor to help a patient with anxiety

Anxiety. What is it good for? Well, in our ancient days, “anxiety” was a useful chemical reaction that helped spur us to make decisions, like to fight back or run away. Our fight or flight syndrome could send us a surge of adrenaline in case we needed to protect ourselves.

Nowadays, we don’t encounter nearly as many physical threats. The threats we do face, like work stress, relationship issues, personal health concerns, and financial difficulties, are more complex and long term. Sadly, we can’t simply fight or run away from these problems.

We can’t turn off mother nature, but we can work to minimize some of the negative side effects that come with anxiety. A healthy amount of anxiety now and then is not so bad since it can motivate us to make decisions and solve problems, but too much can wind up really hurting us. Anxiety left untreated or unresolved can develop into a full blown disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder or depression.

The worst case scenario is developing some type of long term or chronic anxiety and choosing to treat it by self medicating with drugs and alcohol. Learning to rely on a short term solution for a long term problem will only serve to hurt you in the long run. Instead of relying on prescription medication, illicit substances, or alcohol, you will need to learn healthy, natural techniques that can bring you daily relief without any negative side effects.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is perhaps the simplest and most effective way to de-stress. Studies show that daily breathing exercises reduce blood pressure and induce feelings of calmness. Here’s a quick deep breathing exercise you can do at work, at home, in the car, or anywhere:

  1. Sit down with your chest up and out.
  2. Inhale slowly through the nostrils and hold for seven seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth and expel all the air from your lungs for eight seconds.
  4. Repeat four to five times.

You can also close your eyes during this exercise to help sharpen focus and reduce anxiety even further.


Meditation, similar to deep breathing, is a simple yet effective tool that can be used almost anywhere to help you de-stress. Studies show that regular meditation can help you better regulate emotions and react in a more calm and thoughtful manner. There are plenty of resources you look up online to see what different techniques are available, but generally you will be following the same principles: Find a quiet place, sit down, close your eyes, and focus on something simple such as breathing or relaxing music.


Numerous studies have pointed out the positive benefits of exercise as it pertains to mental and physical health. In fact, exercise may be a pivotal component for the treatment of anxiety and depression. It can elevate mood, reduce stress, improve sleep, and improve overall physical well-being.

Some important things to keep in mind while pursuing an exercise routine are to make sure that you adhere to some sort of regularity or schedule, that you are doing the exercises properly, and that you are elevating your heart rate for the extent of the exercise.

If you want to know more about the most up-to-date exercise guidelines for Americans, check out the Home of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s guide to physical activity.

Health Benefits of Avoiding Self-Medication for Anxiety

a woman smiling because she is working through her anxiety without medication

Alcohol tends to change the way we see the world, and most of the time it’s in ways that aren’t good for us. For example, we’re drinking poison, yet feel invincible. We find people we never thought about before to be extremely attractive. We stand on top of the world one moment, then find ourselves passed out in our own beds the next. While few people believe alcohol improves our looks, many accept the idea that it makes us feel better. However, the truth is that alcohol actually worsens the way we look and feel in the long term. Here are some health and beauty benefits you can pick up in as little as a month.

Better Sleep, Better Hair

Alcohol is known for causing eyelids to get heavy. If you’ve ever slept near someone who has consumed their fair share of alcohol for the night, snoring is not an uncommon occurrence. But the truth is that, while alcohol helps you go to sleep faster, it also makes you get worse sleep overall. Multiple studies have confirmed that consuming any amount of alcohol before bed increases the number of alpha waves in the brain, decreasing your overall quality of sleep in the long run.

If you really want your beauty sleep to count, avoiding alcohol for an entire month can help flush out the toxins and restore your body’s natural sleep patterns. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes you to expel liquid, so if you do consume any alcohol before bed you’ll go to sleep without the proper amount of hydration or nutrients. Speaking of nutrients, over drinking can lower your levels of Zinc, Folic acid, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B, leading to weaker and more brittle hair. If you want luscious locks, you’ll need plenty of nutrients and water.

Shred Unwanted Weight

This is the benefit to sobriety that Taco Bell doesn’t want you to find out about. Anyone who drinks is familiar with the munchies that you get after a night out, so it shouldn’t be surprising to find out that cutting down on alcohol can you curb your excess caloric intake.

Whether it’s the extra carbs from the drinks or the fast food you consume after a night out, drinking is almost always a net positive in caloric intake. In fact, a study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics examined the eating and drinking habits of 22,000 Americans and found that alcohol causes people to consume an extra 384 calories per day in the long run. Just think, in a month that’s almost 12,000 calories! If you want to shed some unneeded weight, try cutting out alcohol for a month and see how many pounds it saves you.

Better Skin

Alcohol is a sneaky thief that robs us of our inhibitions, our pride, and in some cases, our time (if you’ve ever blacked out). Well, alcohol also likes to steal nutrition and electrolytes from the body as well, leaving your skin high and dry, literally. Much like caffeine or tea, alcohol is a diuretic that causes us to expel more liquid while at the same time blocking the body’s production of hormones that help us retain water. What this means is that it can take a while before our bodies are returned to a natural balance. One way to bounce back to normal levels of skin hydration is to consume plenty of liquids during and after your drinking, or even to grab some Pedialyte or Gatorade afterwards. However, the easiest and most cost-effective way to retain great skin is to avoid having a drinking problem in the first place.

Better Self

You should never rely on alcohol to have a good time. Some of us may turn to it as a crutch while others use it simply as a way to be social. Whatever your relationship with alcohol, taking a break from it for a month could be a way for you to discover more about yourself, hobbies that make you happy, and how you spend your time. Alcohol is often used a way to numb the uncomfortable thoughts or feelings in our head. However, learning to uncover and speak our truths it ultimately the most helpful and beautiful thing we can do.

You know that they say about too much of a good thing. With alcohol, the times can be fun but ultimately we pay a price in the form of being less healthy and truthful to ourselves. If you’re curious about how alcohol could be affecting your physical, mental, or sexual health, then maybe you should consider taking a month off from alcohol. At the very least, you’ll get to reap the benefits of better sleep, better skin, and a better wallet thickness. Moreover, you don’t need to wait for Sober October or Dry July to start; you can simply mark a date on your calendar and begin your journey on your own. Also, if you’re concerned that you may have a drinking problem, don’t hesitate to find a local drug or alcohol rehab center near you.

In Conclusion

Before turning to the temporary relief you may find in prescription medication, illicit drugs, or alcohol, strongly consider trying one of these free, proven methods for relieving stress and curbing anxiety. Integrated treatment, like the comprehensive approach offered at Landmark Recovery, addresses both mental health and addiction. If you have questions or need assistance in finding the right facility for treatment, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 888-448-0302. Take the first step toward choosing recovery over addiction and find the support you need today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.