Tips for Overcoming the Feelings of Anxiety from an Addiction

 In Mental Health

Feelings of anxiety are normally experienced when someone is trying to recover from an addiction. It is also those feelings of anxiety that can tempt someone to relapse and start the recovery process all over again. Many people get sober in treatment centers and follow it up with sober living and outpatient treatment programs. During this time, people may experience quite a bit of anxiety and restlessness. To help understand what type of impact feelings of anxiety from an addiction can have on someone’s overall life and for tips on overcoming the feelings of anxiety from an addiction, here are a few thoughts.

The impact of anxiety on individuals with an addiction can be devastating and make recovery from their addiction extremely complicated. In many cases individuals that present with an addiction also have co-occurring disorders including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and others. One complicating factor with many individuals suffering with addictions is that their use of a substance has become their only way to manage emotions such as anxiety. When the substance is removed from the equation they are left with emotions that may be normal, but they are emotions that may have been suppressed for many years. In order to sustain recovery the management of these emotions must be dealt with. Often times if individuals are not addressing the emotional side of their addiction relapse is soon to follow and many go through this cycle many times before finally developing strategies to manage their anxiety or other emotions such as anger or depression.

There is really no one-size fits all approach to overcoming feelings of anxiety from an addiction. Certainly learning the difference between normal anxiety and more pathological anxiety is a good starting point. As I previously mentioned this is often difficult as many of these individuals have suppressed feelings for so long they are not able to recognize normal anxiety. Once the substance is removed and feelings start coming the automatic response for many is to try and avoid them at all cost. Often times that means quickly returning to their substance use. We learn to develop greater personal resilience and not be overcome by anxiety when we used to be.T

One major source of support for dealing with anxiety and other emotions that start to surface is through the use of support groups such as AA, NA or Smart recovery. Many people benefit from these meetings as they can share stories of how their addiction has impacted their lives and strategies that others have used to manage emotions and sustain their recovery. The meetings also offer an opportunity to build a community and support network.

Professional help is most often a major component to establishing and sustaining recovery as well as dealing with anxiety while an individual is still using a substance. Sometimes individuals need to address their anxiety in order to even begin thinking about recovery, as these emotions are so powerful that the idea of letting go of the crutch of addiction is frightening. The level of professional help is dependent on the level of anxiety the individual is dealing with as well as where they are in their addition. Options include inpatient treatment, which can be short term or longer residential type programs, intensive outpatient programs, group therapy or one on one individual therapy. All of these options can also vary in the model they use to address the anxiety, but cognitive behavioral approaches have been proven to be a very effective approach for many individuals dealing with these issues. Additionally there are always options of medication treatment to address anxiety, but there can be problems when using this approach alone. First is the source of the anxiety is not addressed this way and if medications are not available to the individual at a given time the anxiety will return. Second and most often a potentially major problem is that many anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazapines) are addictive themselves so an individual may address the anxiety and subsequently develop another addiction. Ultimately the best practice to treat this problem is a combination of approaches to address the anxiety and foster a healthy recovery from the anxiety as well as the addiction.

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