When someone is struggling with both alcoholism and an anxiety disorder of any kind, it is termed a “Dual Diagnosis.” Their experience in addiction, as well as their experience in treatment, will be different as compared to someone who suffers from alcoholism alone. Alcohol significantly impacts a patient’s experience with anxiety disorder symptoms, and anxiety disorder symptoms often drive alcoholic behaviors. Because of the interconnected nature of these two disorders, it is imperative that the patient seek a treatment program that addresses both issues simultaneously.
Attempting to deal with alcoholism without directing specific treatment at the anxiety disorder will be fruitless in the long term. The two disorders are too intertwined to successfully treat one without also treating the other.
An estimated 18 million Americans are alcoholics or struggle with an alcohol abuse disorder including binge drinking, according to Medline Plus. Defined by cravings for alcohol, physical withdrawal symptoms when without a drink, an inability to stop drinking, and a high tolerance for alcohol, alcoholism is often exacerbated by the existence of a co-occurring mental health disorder like anxiety.
Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues in the United States. The symptoms of an anxiety disorder will vary depending upon the specifics of the patient’s experience and the type of anxiety disorder diagnosed. Some of the most often diagnosed types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
When any of these are an issue in addition to alcoholism, the result is symptoms that are overwhelming.
Co-occurring Alcoholism and Anxiety
An estimated 2.4 percent of Americans have struggled with an alcohol use disorder and an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Medicine. A diagnosis of social anxiety disorder alone was associated with a significant increase in both alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. In almost 80 percent of cases, social anxiety predated the onset of alcoholism. Additionally, when anxiety was an issue, the severity of anxiety symptoms was worsened as compared to patients who struggled with anxiety but did not have an alcohol addiction or abuse issue. Researchers found that, though the existence of both anxiety and alcoholism is exceedingly common, few get the treatment they need to effectively address both issues.
Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Abuse
Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is particularly associated with alcohol use and abuse. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 20 percent of those who struggle with social anxiety also struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Why? Some believe that anxiety patients turn to alcohol in an attempt to relieve their stress around being in social situations. To make it easier to interact with others, they drink to relax and often drink too much or too frequently and develop a substance use disorder as a result.
When an anxiety patient develops an alcohol problem, they may feel powerless to overcome it because they feel that they need alcohol in order to address their often overwhelming anxiety symptoms.
Treatment for Co-occurring Anxiety and Alcoholism
A study published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review found that anxiety and alcohol use disorders tend to initiate each other. That is, anxiety symptoms may cause the person to drink and drinking may worsen the symptoms of anxiety. Those who quit drinking without getting treatment for their anxiety often relapse quickly – and vice versa. If your family member is struggling with a Dual Diagnosis situation that includes anxiety and alcoholism, don’t wait to seek intensive and comprehensive treatment. We can help. Contact us at the phone number listed above to speak with one of our admissions coordinators today.
Further Reading About Alcoholism and Anxiety Disorder
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.