Anxiety and addiction

The ‘celebrity battle with addiction’ is avidly scrutinised in the media and eagerly lapped up by us - the public. Alcohol and drug addiction are high profile - possibly due to the ‘sexy’ rock’n’roll association, however, all addictions are harmful and stealthily creep up on us, most commonly in the guise of an ‘escape’ from our anxieties.

We become addicted not so much to the drug, or the alcohol, or the shopping etc. but on having an ‘escape’. An escape from any manner of things - work, stress, pain, life. Whether it’s taking substances, buying clothes, or watching porn, all addictions have two things in common; they develop surreptitiously and are extremely difficult to break.

There are various reasons why an addiction develops and why some people are more susceptible than others. It has been shown that if someone has addiction in their family, or experienced abuse as a child, or suffer with psychological problems, the risk of addiction increases. However, addiction can also develop due to stress and anxiety throughout one's life.

For most of us alcohol and/or drugs help us to unwind and make socialising more fun - in other words substances are used for positive effect. However, for those with anxiety (regardless of the cause), taking substances can become a way to obliterate emotional difficulties and manage stressful situations, whereby, substances are used to self-medicate negative emotions.

If substances are repeatedly used to manage our anxieties and worries, dependence will develop and our personal coping skills will diminish along with our self-esteem. Over time, dependency is reinforced and the chance of an addiction taking hold increases.

For example, if our life becomes stressful and our anxiety levels become burdensome, the innocent ‘after work drink’ can easily turn from ‘socialising time with colleagues’ to the ‘drinks we need to get us through the week’.  

Anxiety is a common cause for excess drinking and/or drug taking: the more we experience anxiety the more we want to drink, and the more we drink, the more we are likely to suffer anxiety. It is a vicious cycle.

Taking drugs and alcohol to treat anxiety gives temporary relief, but it also causes long term damage to the mechanisms that help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. This cycle of self-medication and rebound anxiety reinforces addiction and creates a downward spiral as treatment and recovery become increasingly harder to achieve. (The development of alcoholism or drug addiction is similar to other addictions).

Many people are unaware of the nature of their anxiety that underlays their addiction. Consequently, most people are unable to recover on their own. Counselling is crucial to help people recognise and understand how their emotional needs affect their behaviour.  

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based psychological treatment that was developed through decades of scientific research. Research shows that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders including: social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder and panic attacks. It is also an effective treatment for problems such as depression, chronic pain, anger issues, addiction, and low self-esteem.

Recovery from anxiety and/or addiction greatly depends on the motivation to change and individual circumstances. In some, more complex cases, addiction and anxiety is the tip of the iceberg, in which case, therapy may need to be more long term in order to address the underlying factors.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Suzy Cohen MBACP Reg

I am a qualified and BACP registered addiction counsellor with 25 years professional experience supporting people with emotional issues including: social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, depression and addiction. I work in collaboration with my clients to create bespoke recovery plans which address individual needs and goals.… Read more

Written by Suzy Cohen MBACP Reg

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