Feeling worried, nervous, uneasy, or trapped in racing thoughts are common symptoms of anxiety, which can cause physiological symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and muscle tension. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults and 31.9% of U.S adolescents have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder in their lifetime (NIH, 2017). These individuals can experience an increase in impulsivity, affecting their decision making, which has the possibility to expose them to an environment with drugs and alcohol. As a result, individuals dealing with anxiety should understand how substance abuse plays a role.
People dealing with anxiety often experience symptoms that can also put a person more at risk of substance abuse for reasons such as symptom management, biomedical factors, and genetic predispositions. People seek to alleviate symptoms through the use of substances. In some cases, substances can provide a feeling of normalcy; solace from the growing weight of their anxiety. These substances, however, fail to address root causes of anxiety such the genetic and biochemical makeup.
When a person uses substances to alleviate symptoms and dealing with anxiety, the initial reaction is relief; the sense of normalcy mentioned above. Although, the individual may feel “better”, they are merely masking their symptoms temporarily, while, over time, their anxiety becomes exacerbated. Their initial root cause or problem has not gone away, and they are now faced with new struggles, for which they are not prepared. For example, substance abuse can lead to financial, accessibility, relationship stress as well as to prosocial conflicts, all of which add to the original experienced anxiety
There are many ways to cope with anxiety; some are positive, and some are negative, but it is important to distinguish one from the other and reinforce the positives. Aside from substance abuse, some negative coping habits are: avoidance, isolation, and engaging in excessive behaviors such as eating, gambling, and sleeping. Common positive coping skills are: relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, breathing techniques, working out, journaling, medication, and talk therapy. The benefit of positive coping skills is longevity; they are long-term treatments for dealing with anxiety, while negative coping mechanisms only elicit short term relief.
By: Erin Greenleaf