We all have different pressure and stress thresholds. Most of us need a certain level of these in order to maintain our motivation to function. It can even be said that we can thrive on a certain level of pressure, to an extent. It gives us a sense of satisfaction when we achieve something under these conditions. The brain produces chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine which boost our alertness, allowing us to focus on the task at hand.
In moderation, the production of these chemicals in our bodies is healthy. Their production increase in accordance with a situation we are in and when that situation has passed, our bodies and minds readjust. However, chemical imbalances can leave us susceptible to feelings of depression and anxiety.
For some of us, the prospect of feeling under pressure to do something can cause a fear that we find impossible to overcome, which is known as anxiety. When this fear reaches extreme levels, we enter into anxiety disorders.
There are a number of different categories of anxiety disorder. These include:
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Social Anxiety Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common of these types of disorder and has the broadest set of symptoms and circumstances attached to it. It really catches every reason for anxiety in a person, outside of the more specific categories that are listed above.
Aside from GAD, the more specific categories of anxiety disorders I have listed can be characterised by the focus of the anxiety being triggered by one particular environment, circumstance or issue. They can cause us to think obsessively and irrationally about how we perceive those issues.
PTSD is a diagnosis relating to anxiety issues experienced following exposure to a traumatic event or situation. This can result in flashbacks that can feel like we are reliving the feelings of fear and anxiety that were experienced during the trauma.
Panic Disorders are the frequent experience of rapid onset of intense physical feelings. These can include increased heartbeat, feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed, hot or cold sweats, nausea, trembling or shaking, chest or abdominal pain, struggling to breathe. During these attacks, it can make us feel like we are going to faint, have a heart attack or even die.
However, the scope of this blog will mainly focus on GAD and its links to addiction.
Definition and Signs of GAD
The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, defines the diagnosis of GAD as follows:
The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive. Excessive worry means worrying even when there is nothing wrong or in a manner that is disproportionate to the actual risk. This typically involves spending a high percentage of waking hours worrying about something. The worry may be accompanied by reassurance-seeking from others.
DSM-5 further states that at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms should be present in order to diagnose a case of GAD:
- Edginess or restlessness
- Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
- Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
- Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
- Increased muscle aches or soreness
- Difficulty sleeping
When we consider this list of symptoms, we can start to imagine how difficult this level of anxiety can be to constantly live with.
The truth is that there is often very little let up in these feelings and symptoms when an anxiety disorder develops. They often don’t speak with the onset of a particular event and then relent with planning ahead of an event or situation and then ease after the event or situation has passed.
They become omnipresent – a way of life and a constant issue to have to live with. A way of thinking that is second nature and is entered into automatically, through learned behaviour going back years to the point where not feeling anxious about any number of things can seem an unusual concept for somebody experiencing such a disorder.
There can be lots of analysis, conscious or subconscious, that the mind cycles through, long after an event that causes anxiety and long in advance of another such event. It can become a default to go into a negative thought cycle – ‘this is going to go badly’, ‘there will only be a bad outcome to this’, ‘I am not good enough….’ and so on. In extreme cases, if anxiety becomes ingrained into thinking patterns, then any number of things, however insignificant they may seem, can trigger these thoughts and feelings.
The Addiction Cycle
The behavioural and thought cycles that link to feelings of anxiety can become addictive in themselves.
They can be managed with a combination of prescribed medication and psychological treatments. However, some people don’t want to go down the reliance on medication or psychological treatment routes.
At the outset, these methods can conceal the feelings of anxiety. We can feel more confident or more functional in situations that would usually cause us to feel anxious. However, this behaviour merely masks what is really affecting us.
Drugs and alcohol consumption can actually create new layers to our feelings of anxiety. Because the brain’s circuitry comes to equate feeling good with the use of these substances, it can make us feel anxious to recreate this feeling by using substances more. It can create cravings for these substances and use the onset of anxious situations not only as triggers for our anxiety but also as triggers to use substances in an attempt to control these feelings and symptoms.
Then, as with the basic principle of substance addiction, as we increase consumption of substances, our body’s tolerance levels for these also increase, so we need more frequent use or bigger quantities to satisfy these cravings.
Some substances can cause states of paranoia, which we might experience while under their influence and may simply add to the list of reasons and situations why we are feeling anxious when in periods of withdrawal from these substances.
Another category of addictive behaviour that can develop in response to feelings of anxiety is Self Harm.
In its most common forms, this involves deliberately inflicting injury on the body, through various means, including cutting or burning, This is often done as an attempt to regulate mood if they have been feeling upset or anxious. It can provide a form of ‘release’ and often develops when people find discussing their emotions difficult.
Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction
So what can we do to effectively and safely make progress in dealing with anxiety disorders?
Scientific studies have shown that maintaining appropriate levels of physical activity can help in many ways. These include helping the body to produce chemicals called endorphins, which have a number of positive functions including reduction of fatigue, improving alertness and concentration and enhancing general cognitive functions. Exercise can help regulate our sleep patterns, which can reduce stress levels by ensuring we get an appropriate amount of rest at night, readying us to function more effectively the next day.
One option might include a combination of help, such as appropriate medication or referral to structured withdrawal programmes for addiction otherwise called a Detox. These will need to be regularly reviewed to ensure ongoing effectiveness. But it will also likely include referral for psychological treatments, such as a residential rehab, seeing a psychologist or having counselling.
Counselling, in particular, can complement other treatments by looking at the underlying causes of the anxiety using a variety of different methods, based on each individual client’s needs.
Two of the main types of treatment that can be used in these circumstances are cognitive and psychodynamic therapy.
Cognitive therapy can address long established thought processes that are conducive to the development of anxiety, can examine the beliefs that have led to these thought processes developing and can gradually replace them with alternative ways of thinking that allow a person to better manage their anxieties.
Psycho-Dynamic therapy focuses on how relationship developments going right back to childhood might have influenced our thinking and development of defence mechanisms which have been operating ineffectively and have contributed to the development of these anxieties.
Attending self-help or support groups in person or online, whether for support with the anxiety symptoms alone or for addiction these feelings have led to. This can act as a vital source of support for those suffering from anxiety issues and disorders and can complement other sources of support of structured recovery.
A Residential Rehab is a safe place where you can have a medical detox along with intensive counselling and psychotherapy. It will include all of the above-mentioned therapies and more. To find out if residential rehab is the right option for you, please call 0203 955 7700