How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder with SUD Treated?

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Feeling anxious from time to time is completely understandable. If you have a hectic lifestyle where you’re always crunched for time and continually juggling responsibilities, worrying and becoming anxious is normal.

If you are worrying or feeling anxious, feeling excessive worry, having panic attacks, experiencing debilitating bouts of mental health crises and finding it difficult to control these feelings, you might be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is also the case if you find anxiety interfering with daily living. 

People develop GAD at all stages of life from childhood through adulthood. The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are quite similar to those of OCD, panic disorder, and other forms of anxiety. They are nevertheless all separate conditions that need treating in different ways.

Now, living with generalized anxiety disorder long-term can be remarkably challenging. Typically, a combination of medication and psychotherapy will lead to an improvement. Lifestyle changes, learning healthier coping skills, and meditation techniques can all also be beneficial.

 In some cases, GAD co-occurs with other mood disorders or anxiety disorders. In other cases, GAD co-occurs with substance use disorder. There can be many factors that contribute to this besides substance abuse itself which can range from environmental factors such as living in a highly dangerous place or dealing with a extremely triggering environment. The health condition of generalized anxiety disorders is unfortunately very common in today’s world. Mental illness is no stranger to the American public.

Before we explore the most effective forms of substance use disorder and anxiety disorder treatment, we’ll look at how to determine if you have GAD in the first place.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder vary from person to person. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Persistently worrying about things to an extent out of all proportion to their real impact
  • Problems dealing with uncertainty
  • Feelings of blankness or difficulty with focus
  • Overthinking and planning for all outcomes to an unnecessary extent
  • Inability to let go of worries
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Feelings of persistent restlessness
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision

GAD can also trigger certain physical symptoms, including:

  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Twitching
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)

If you’re suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, there may be times that you still feel a low-level anxiety, even when your worries don’t seem all-consuming.

Both the anxiety and the physical symptoms of GAD can cause deep distress at home, work, and school. The nature of what you’re worrying about may change over time.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder has many causes, both biological and environmental. Factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Fundamental differences in brain chemistry
  • Personality and development
  • Different perception of threats

Preventing Generalized Anxiety Disorder

There is no surefire method of predicting what may prompt someone to develop GAD. That said, there are simple steps you can take if you find yourself experiencing attacks of anxiety.

  • Journal: Tracking your personal life and recording your thoughts and feelings can help you and your mental health professional to determine what’s stressing you and what seems to alleviate your anxiety.
  • Avoid abusing substances: Using alcohol and drugs can inflame the symptoms of anxiety. Even caffeine and nicotine can worsen anxiety.
  • Prioritize: Save your time and energy by managing both carefully and putting things in strict priority, both at work and at home.
  • Seek help early: Just like most other mental health conditions, the longer you delay seeking treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, the harder it will be to treat.

Co-occurring Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Substance Use Disorder

If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you’ll be more likely to develop an addiction to drink or drugs than someone without anxiety.

The more advanced the disorder becomes, the more likely it is you will turn to substances as a means of self-medicating. Even though it remains unclear why, precisely, people develop substance use disorder and co-occurring GAD, self-medication is believed to play a vital role in this. Unfortunately, any relief provided is only temporary, and both problems often become worse.

The most commonly abused substances by those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Cocaine
  • Meth
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Stimulants

What Is The Correlation Between GAD and Substance Use Disorders?

GAD affects women at higher rates than men, although co-occurring substance use disorders and GAD are more prevalent among men than women.

Those with dual diagnosis typically have a family history of substance abuse and mental health disorders than those suffering only from generalized anxiety disorder.

When substance use disorder co-occurs with GAD, the symptoms of anxiety are normally more severe, and impairment in daily living is also more pronounced.

Treatment for Co-occurring GAD and Substance Use Disorder

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be beneficial for treating the symptoms of anxiety.

Of these therapies, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the most effective for treating GAD.

With a short-term course of CBT, you’ll focus on learning specific skills to better manage your worries. As you progress with CBT sessions, you should find you can return to activities you’ve been avoiding due to anxiety. Symptoms should improve over time as you become more adept at avoiding triggers for worry.

Also, some medications can be effective for treating GAD:

  • Benzodiazepines: Sometimes and strictly short-term, benzodiazepines are prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. With a strong potential for abuse and addiction, benzos are inadvisable if you struggle with co-occurring substance use disorder.
  • Antidepressants: SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants are the first line medications used for treating GAD. Other antidepressants may be beneficial if the above prove ineffective.
  • Buspirone: This anti-anxiety medication, unlike benzos, is suitable for ongoing use. Just like antidepressants, this medication takes a few weeks to properly kick in.

Mental Health IOP for Anxiety Disorder Treatment

There are effective treatment programs for both substance use disorders and generalized anxiety disorders at all levels on the continuum of care. Whether you need the rigid structure of residential rehab, or a less extensive method of delivery like an intensive outpatient program (IOP), you have plenty of options.

Treatment depends on which disorder is deemed primary and which secondary. Treatment can be integrated or delivered in parallel.

Substance Use Disorder and Anxiety Disorder Treatment at Renaissance Recovery Center

Here at Renaissance Recovery Center, our mental health intensive outpatient program is designed to help you combat the twin scourges of addiction and generalized anxiety disorder. If an IOP is not appropriate, we can step you up to a partial hospitalization program. Here, you’ll reap many of the benefits of residential rehab without the expense or the restrictions.

As with all our treatment programs, you’ll receive personalized care targeting the precise nature of your co-occurring disorders. All you need to do is call the friendly team today at 866.330.9449.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country