Addiction and Anxiety


Engin Sezen, MSW, PhD

Clinical Social Worker, Psychotherapist

In my clinical practice over the years, I see many people struggle with both addiction and general anxiety disorders together at the same time. This concurrent disorder is a chicken-and-egg dilemma!

Addiction is a persistent condition that prevents a person from discontinuing harmful substance use or behavior, causing both psychological and physical harm. It can lead to severe consequences and leave people feeling ashamed and guilty.

Harvard’s report outlines addiction through the three C’s: a strong craving for the addictive object, a loss of control over its use, and continued engagement despite negative consequences (Overcoming Addiction Paths toward recovery, p.4). Although addiction and mental health often intertwine, with proper treatment, individuals can overcome substance use disorders and related mental health challenges.

For many, struggling with anxiety can lead to seeking solace in substance abuse, as it provides a temporary escape from overwhelming emotions. People may resort to drugs or alcohol to numb themselves, find momentary relief, or alleviate anxiety symptoms. It is common for symptoms of clinical anxiety and addiction to co-occur, with approximately 20% of individuals experiencing both conditions simultaneously. Unfortunately, self-medicating anxiety with substances only offers short-term relief and poses significant risks. Prolonged substance use can lead to chronic anxiety, as substances alter the brain’s reward system and overall function, resulting in negative mental health effects.

Recognizing the intricate link between anxiety disorders and substance use disorders is crucial for healthcare professionals. Anxiety symptoms may manifest during chronic intoxication or withdrawal and can also act as a risk factor for addiction development. Both psychotherapy and medications have proven effective in treating anxiety, with research suggesting that psychotherapy offers better results, while medication serves as a valuable option for many during their recovery journey.

In my experience at an outpatient mental health unit at our local hospital, I witnessed firsthand the strong connection between addiction and anxiety almost all the time. Individuals facing unfortunate life events and significant life changes often experienced heightened anxiety, leading them to seek solace in substances, eventually leading to dependence.

At Orange Wellness, we specialize in working with individuals struggling with substance and behavioral addictions. Our approach involves addressing how life experiences and current circumstances can impact them, teaching coping strategies to manage urges, and fostering compassion for the part of them using substances to cope with mental health issues. Our aim is to enhance their awareness, knowledge, and skills in managing both anxiety and addiction.

The effective treatment of concurrent disorders involving addiction and anxiety requires a comprehensive and integrated approach to address both conditions effectively. To achieve the best results, it is essential to address both conditions simultaneously during rehabilitation A successful solution involves a combination of therapies, medications, and support systems. First and foremost, a thorough assessment is essential to understand the individual’s unique needs and tailor treatment accordingly. Leaving one disorder untreated increases the risk of relapse, as it may trigger the other condition. Dual-diagnosis treatment programs offer a viable option for individuals with co-occurring disorders. Such programs may include inpatient treatment, where patients receive 24-hour care at a facility, or outpatient treatment, where individuals reside at home and attend hospital or clinic visits for medication, counseling, or other necessary treatments.

For instance, Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven effective in helping individuals identify and modify unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors associated with both addiction and anxiety. Additionally, medication management can play a crucial role in alleviating anxiety symptoms and reducing substance cravings. Group therapy and support groups provide a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges. Holistic approaches, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, can also aid in stress reduction and overall mental well-being. It is vital to address both addiction and anxiety simultaneously to ensure comprehensive healing and promote long-term recovery. With a multidisciplinary and compassionate approach, individuals can find hope and the tools they need to navigate toward a healthier and more fulfilling life.

The road to recovery from addiction and anxiety is not a solitary journey. By understanding the complex relationship between these disorders and providing comprehensive treatment, we can offer individuals the best chance for lasting recovery and improved mental well-being.