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Anxiety is a widespread mental health disorder often brought on by trauma, stress, significant life changes, and other circumstances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2019 approximately 10.8% of all adults in America over the age of 18 experienced some form of anxiety or depression. Of those, 8.1% showed noticeable symptoms of anxiety. 

Anxiety is often a side effect of substance use disorder (SUD) and using various prescription or illegal drugs. A 2013 research paper from the Medical University of South Carolina states that “converging evidence from epidemiologic and treatment studies indicate that anxiety disorders and substance use disorders commonly co-occur, and the interaction is multifaceted and variable.” Anxiety can manifest in many ways, and untangling the cause and effect of anxiety disorders and SUD can be challenging.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling that often takes the form of dread, fear, or uneasiness. Sometimes these feelings are directed towards a specific source. At other times, a general sense of doom clouds thinking and leads to behavioral changes often caused by a desire to cope with the anxiety. For example, if anxiety worsens when someone is out in public, they may stop attending social events they previously enjoyed. 

Several mental health disorders have anxiety as a significant component, including those listed below:

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias such as agoraphobia or arachnophobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)


What Causes Anxiety?

Anxiety symptoms exist on a spectrum where many experience differing intensity and symptoms of the disorder. Most people have felt some anxiety when they face uncomfortable situations like speaking in public, but this feeling is usually short-lived and does not reach the point of a mental illness. However, others experience these feelings to the extent that every aspect of their daily life is affected, causing a severe disability. Many things can cause anxiety, but it commonly develops due to the following: 

  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Hormonal changes
  • History of trauma or mental illness
  • Chronic or acute stress
  • Social, work, school, or relationship pressures
  • Unexpected life changes such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or a job loss
  • Chronic injury, illness, or disability 
  • Being the primary caregiver for someone with a chronic injury, illness, or disability 
  • Stress, neglect, abuse, or trauma during childhood
  • Growing up in an unhealthy living environment 
  • Extreme shyness as a child

Common Signs and Symptoms

Most people know what an anxiety attack looks like because they are relatively common, and every form of media has depicted stereotypical panic and anxiety attacks. However, sometimes the signs and symptoms of anxiety can be more subtle. The type of anxiety disorder a person has will determine how these symptoms manifest. Below are some examples of physical and behavioral changes that might occur when someone is experiencing everyday anxiety or has one of the following anxiety disorders: 


Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

  • Extreme tiredness after stressful events
  • Feeling alert, on edge, or restless
  • Difficulty maintaining focus and concentration
  • Memory issues
  • Tense muscles which may lead to aches or migraines
  • Strong feelings of worry and unease
  • Changes to sleeping patterns or restless sleep 


Panic Disorder

  • Increased respiration and heart rate, palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling, weakness, or numbness 
  • The feeling of being choked or an inability to pull in a full breath
  • A sense of doom
  • Inability to control emotions and responses


Specific Phobia

  • Irrational fear of being in contact with or seeing the object of the phobia
  • Actively taking actions to avoid the object of the phobia
  • Severe anxiety and fear upon seeing, hearing, or being forced to interact with the object of the phobia


Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Extreme anxiety in social situations or concern about being in a social situation 


Long- and Short-Term Effects of Anxiety

Everyone feels anxiety at certain points in their life, which can even be a good thing because it can prepare us to face dangerous situations. However, for most people who experience anxiety daily or weekly, they may experience unhealthy long-term and short-term effects. In the short-term, anxiety mainly impacts the “flight, fight, or freeze” response but could also include the following: 

  • Changes to sleep patterns, including insomnia 
  • Increased breathing and heart-rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feelings of weakness, shakiness, or dizziness 
  • Headache or migraine
  • Stomach discomfort, nausea, or vomiting 
  • Extreme exhaustion 

Long-term effects can range from mild to severe depending on the person but may include:

  • High blood pressure 
  • Night terrors
  • Panic attacks 
  • Loss of libido
  • Unexplainable aches and pains throughout the body
  • Mental health conditions such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • A lingering sense of doom


Treatment Options

One of the most common treatments for anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). When co-occurring with substance use disorder or other conditions, other psychotherapies can treat both simultaneously, including mindfulness and meditation-based therapies. Medications usually treat specific symptoms like panic attacks. They may include: 

  • Anti-Anxiety Medications: benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

We are here to support you

Almost everyone has experienced some form of anxiety in their lifetime. If you notice that anxiety has affected your day-to-day life, treatment might be necessary. A variety of anxiety disorders require mental health intervention from a professional therapist or counselor. Your recovery can benefit from treating any symptoms you may have noticed. Generalized anxiety disorder is very common among individuals who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder. At White House Recovery and Detox, we believe that everyone deserves to live a happy and healthy life. Our rehabilitation programs can help with overcoming anxieties related to recovery.