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Anxiety and Addiction

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Anxiety and addiction are complex and often co-occurring disorders that can significantly impact a person’s mental health and well-being. Anxiety-related disorders are one of the most frequent mental health illnesses, impacting millions globally, and addiction is a chronic condition affecting millions more.

While anxiety and addiction are distinct conditions, research shows that they frequently co-occur, with individuals with anxiety disorders being more susceptible to developing addiction and vice versa. Understanding the connection between these two conditions and seeking appropriate treatment can significantly improve a person’s quality of life and help them on the path to recovery.

Anxiety and Addiction: Understanding the Link

Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction are deeply interconnected and can easily lead to another. People with anxiety disorders often use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms. The temporary relief these substances provide can create a dependence cycle, quickly becoming an addiction. Furthermore, individuals with anxiety disorders may also be more vulnerable to developing an addiction due to their heightened sensitivity to stress and their tendency to seek relief from it.

On the other hand, addiction can also worsen anxiety. Substance misuse can lead to changes in brain chemistry, which can exacerbate existing anxiety disorders or even trigger new ones. For example, stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine can increase anxiety levels, while alcohol and opioids can lead to depression and anxiety when used in excess.

The relationship between anxiety and addiction is not just behavioral; it also involves changes in brain chemistry. Both anxiety and addiction have been linked to changes in the brain’s reward system, which can lead to heightened sensitivity to stress and a reduced ability to experience pleasure naturally. This can create a cycle where individuals with anxiety disorders use drugs or alcohol to alleviate their symptoms and feel better temporarily, but this leads to further changes in the brain that make the anxiety worse and perpetuate the addiction.

Understanding the link between anxiety and addiction is critical for effective treatment. Integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders is often the most effective approach, simultaneously addressing the addiction and the underlying anxiety disorder. This approach can include a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications targeting anxiety and addiction. By addressing both conditions, individuals can improve their chances of achieving long-term recovery and a better quality of life.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by persistent fear and worry. These feelings can be so intense that they interfere with daily life and routine activities such as work, school, or socializing become difficult. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating and significantly impact a person’s health and well-being.

There are numerous types of anxiety disorders, each with unique symptoms and diagnostic criteria.

These include:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Excessive worry or fears about everyday events and activities characterize this anxiety disorder. People with GAD often worry about things that are unlikely or out of their control.

Panic disorder

This type of anxiety disorder is distinguished by panic attacks that are both terrifying and disturbing. Physical symptoms of panic attacks include racing heart, sweating, and shortness of breath.

Social anxiety disorder

This anxiety disorder is distinguished by acute dread or anxiety in social circumstances such as public speaking, meeting new people, or eating in public. People suffering from social anxiety disorder may avoid social situations entirely in order to prevent feeling nervous.

Specific phobias

This anxiety disorder is characterized by intense fear about a certain object or situation, such as flying, spiders, or heights.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is characterized by symptoms that develop after a traumatic event, such as physical assault, a natural disaster, or military combat. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event.

Different Types of Addictions

Addiction is a complex condition that can take many forms. It refers to the compulsive and often harmful use of substances or engagement in behaviors despite adverse consequences. Here are 7 of the different types of addiction:

Substance addiction

This type of addiction involves using drugs or alcohol. It can include legal substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medications and illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Process addiction

This type of addiction involves engaging in behaviors that produce a "high" or pleasurable experience. Common process addictions include gambling, sex, internet or video game use, shopping, and food.

Behavioral addiction

This type of addiction involves compulsive behaviors that can become harmful or problematic, such as excessive exercise or work, compulsive hair-pulling, or compulsive skin-picking.

Dual diagnosis addiction

This type of addiction involves substance addiction and a mental health disorder co-occurrence. For example, a person may struggle with both alcohol addiction and depression.


This type of addiction involves a person developing an addiction to a new substance or behavior after becoming addicted to another substance or behavior. For example, a person who has overcome a gambling addiction may develop a shopping addiction as a replacement behavior.

Physical addiction

This type of addiction involves the development of physical dependence on a substance. Withdrawal symptoms can occur if the substance is stopped abruptly or the person tries to quit without professional support.

Psychological addiction

This type of addiction involves the development of a psychological dependence on a substance or behavior. For example, people may feel like they need the substance or behavior to cope with stress or other negative emotions.

Treating Addiction with Anxiety Disorders

Addiction and anxiety disorders are often co-occurring conditions, meaning they can be experienced simultaneously by the same individual. Therefore, an integrated treatment plan that addresses both conditions is often the most effective way to manage these complex issues. Here are some ways that addiction and anxiety disorders can be treated together:

Integrated Treatment

Integrated treatment involves addressing both addiction and anxiety disorders in a comprehensive and coordinated manner. This may include a team of healthcare professionals, including therapists, addiction specialists, and medical professionals, who work together to develop a personalized dual diagnosis treatment plan for each individual.

Behavioral Therapies for Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Several behavioral therapies have been found to be effective in treating both addiction and anxiety disorders. These therapies aim to address the underlying causes of these disorders and teach individuals new coping skills to manage their symptoms. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used for addiction and anxiety disorders. CBT helps individuals in identifying and replacing harmful thoughts and actions with more positive and adaptive ones.

Other therapies that may be used with CBT include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which focuses on mindfulness and emotional regulation, and exposure therapy, which involves gradually exposing individuals to their fears and anxieties in a controlled and safe environment.

Medications for Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Medications can be used to manage symptoms of both addiction and anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are frequently treated with antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, whereas opioid addiction may be treated with methadone or buprenorphine. Medications can also be used to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with addiction.

It is important to note that medication should always be used in conjunction with behavioral therapies for the best treatment outcomes.

Self-Help Strategies for Managing Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Several self-help strategies can be used to manage both addiction and anxiety disorders. These include:

  • Regular exercise: Exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
  • Stress reduction techniques: Deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices: Eating a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and abstaining from drugs and alcohol can all assist in improving physical and mental health.

Support Groups for Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Support groups can provide individuals a sense of community and support as they navigate their recovery. Individuals suffering from addiction can benefit from support organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). In addition, support groups such as The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can also provide resources for individuals with anxiety disorders.

The Stigma Surrounding Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

Unfortunately, addiction and anxiety disorders are often stigmatized and misunderstood by society. People with addiction are often viewed as weak-willed or immoral, while those with anxiety disorders may be seen as overly sensitive or neurotic. These negative attitudes can lead to discrimination, judgment, and a lack of understanding from others.

The stigma surrounding addiction and anxiety disorders can also prevent individuals from seeking help and treatment. Many people are ashamed or embarrassed to acknowledge they have a problem and are afraid of being criticized or shunned by their community. This can lead to a delay in seeking treatment or a reluctance to access care at all.

Reducing the stigma surrounding addiction and anxiety disorders is crucial to improving treatment and recovery outcomes. This can be achieved by increasing public education and awareness about these conditions, challenging negative stereotypes and attitudes, and promoting a more compassionate and empathetic understanding of those who struggle with addiction and mental health disorders.

It is important to recognize that addiction and anxiety disorders are medical conditions that require treatment and support. By reducing stigma and increasing understanding, we will create a helpful and welcoming environment for those who need help and encourage more individuals to seek treatment and recover from these conditions.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Burning Tree Ranch

Dual diagnosis treatment at Burning Tree Ranch includes a comprehensive and integrated approach that simultaneously addresses addiction and mental health disorders. Our treatment center has a team of experienced healthcare professionals, including licensed therapists, addiction specialists, and medical professionals, who work together to develop personalized treatment plans for each individual.

Our dual diagnosis treatment center offers a range of evidence-based therapies and treatments that have been shown to be effective in treating addiction and mental health disorders.

Dual Diagnosis Statistics



LMSW, LCDC | Counselor
Kristina Robertson serves as Counselor at Burning Tree Ranch. Holding both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work, Kristina’s greatest joy is “watching our clients learn to love themselves again.” An avid equestrian, mother to twenty-one horses, and all-around animal lover, Kristina serves as a bright shining example of long-term recovery in action. Her commitment to whole person health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual makes her an invaluable member of the Burning Tree Ranch clinical team. As a distinguished Phi Theta Kappa and Alpha Zeta member, Kristina believes deeply in each client’s pursuit of becoming their best selves.

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