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Anxiety Disorder: Avoiding Self-Medication

By March 22, 2019 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
Trafalgar addiction treatment centres

There is a high correlation between anxiety disorder and addiction. We discussed the reasons for this in our previous blog. Many people turn to addictive substances in order to cope with the symptoms of anxiety disorder. This is a form of self-medication, a highly addictive and dangerous pattern of use.

Addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions are referred to as concurrent disorders. Treatment for anxiety disorder and co-occurring mental health disorders should follow a concurrent disorders model, identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the addiction and mental health conditions.

There are many progressive methods that have proven effective in coping with anxiety and co-occurring addiction. Evidence-based treatment often incorporates some of these methods. People in recovery can also incorporate them in a regular routine. These methods involve actively engaging with and adapting the way that you process thoughts and emotions. This is a skill that can be developed through addiction treatment methods such as individual therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Identify and Address Sources of Anxiety

When coping with an anxiety disorder, it can be difficult to identify the source of the anxiety. This makes coping with it more difficult. In some cases, anxiety is not directly rooted in a specific cause, but a complex combination of factors. Trying to understand the roots of anxiety and monitoring symptoms will help to address the issue.

Evidence-based treatment can help you to develop a better understanding of your anxiety and to develop healthy methods for coping with it. It can help you to monitor levels of anxiety and identify and address emerging problems early on.

Recognize What You Can and Can’t Control

Often, anxiety is based in things that are outside of our control. For example, fears about something that may happen in the future can become more problematic because you have little influence over them. This can make self-medication seem like the only way of coping with this anxiety. However, recognizing that some things are outside of our control and accepting this is a crucial step towards reducing anxiety.

Anxiety disorder will also often lead a person  to assume that the worst is happening or will happen, or make something that has already happened seem more severe than it really is. Evidence-based treatment can help us to develop the skill of accepting what you cannot control and positively engaging with what you can.

Stay In the Present

This relates to the previous point. Remaining in the present is an effective method for coping with anxiety. Maintaining a focus on the immediate challenges of the moment, rather than a broader focus on every issue you are facing, will help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It will also help you to address these immediate issues. When carried out consistently, this approach will allow you to address many of the issues contributing to your anxiety. As discussed above, you will have to accept that some issues are outside of your control. Ultimately, we must accept that we cannot control what has already happened or what may happen in the future.

Mindfulness techniques help people coping with anxiety remain in the present. Some treatment providers incorporate mindfulness exercises, such as yoga or mindfulness walks, into their programs. These are useful techniques that you can incorporate into a daily routine.

Focus On the Positives

Many people coping with anxiety fall into a pattern of focusing on the negative things in their life and neglecting to recognize the positive ones. Practising focusing on the positive aspects of your life, and methods for improving the negative ones, is a powerful and effective habit. It is a simple concept, but it is not easy to put into practice. A dedicated approach to this method can help to manage anxiety. Treatment methods such as individual therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy can help to develop this skill.

Practice Asking For Help

One of the best skills anyone can develop is recognizing when they need help and being willing to ask for it. Identifying when you are unable to cope on your own and require assistance from those close to you or a treatment provider will help you to address anxiety and its underlying causes. This in turn will help you to avoid self-medication.

Asking for help can be an intimidating and uncomfortable prospect, but once you begin to do it, it will quickly become easier. You will also learn who is willing and able to offer help and will form a reliable support network. Treatment methods such as individual therapy and CBT can also help you to identify when you require help and how to ask for it. Group counselling can also be very helpful in teaching you how to open up about your problems and ask for support.

Regulate Sleeping Pattern

Regulating your sleeping pattern will help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety disorder. A regular pattern of seven-to-nine hours sleep a night improves physical and mental health, making you more resistant to symptoms of anxiety that do emerge. Regular sleep of good quality will also help you to cope with professional and personal responsibilities. This will reduce the causes of anxiety.

If you develop an addiction through self-medicating for anxiety, this will negatively affect your sleep. Even if you get enough hours of sleep, addictive substances such as alcohol reduce the quality of sleep. Addictive behaviour is also generally disruptive to sleeping patterns, preventing the addicted person from getting enough sleep or causing them to sleep irregular hours. Establishing and sticking to a regular sleeping pattern is a progressive and effective method for dealing with anxiety.

Exercise and Spend Time Outdoors

Exercise has proven effective in treating both anxiety and addiction. It functions as a healthy way for the body and mind to process thoughts, emotions and any tension that is present. Anxiety often causes the body to become extremely tense, creating discomfort. Exercise helps to deal with this.

Spending time outdoors is also a healthy way of managing symptoms of anxiety and addiction. Techniques mentioned above such as yoga and mindfulness walks can be very useful in a regular routine for people coping with these conditions and are incorporated into many treatment programs.

Make Time to Unwind

Building time into your routine to unwind and relax is an effective method for coping with anxiety. Making time to move your focus away from any challenges you face and to do something you enjoy will help to prevent anxiety building.

Activities such as reading or going for long walks help the mind and body to unwind. They also help you to gain some distance from and perspective on any problems you do face. When we constantly focus on a problem, we can easily lose our sense of proportion and become overwhelmed. Avoiding technology during this phase of your day is also a good idea, as it prevents distractions and the feeling of sensory overload that many people experience as a result of excessive technology use.

Focus On Diet

A healthy diet can also help to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Limiting the consumption of caffeine and sugar will help the body and mind to relax. This will also improve sleep which, as discussed above, helps to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Consulting with a doctor or dietician about adjustments you can make to your diet is a proactive and healthy way of coping with anxiety disorder.


Many people coping with anxiety disorder do not seek treatment. This occurs for several reasons, including the stigma around mental health disorders, a lack of access to or information about treatment, and an unwillingness to acknowledge the problem on the part of the person coping with it or those around them.

Anxiety can also make the prospect of discussing issues and requesting support extremely intimidating. Not seeking professional treatment will make a person coping with anxiety more likely to fall into a pattern of self-medication. As discussed above, a willingness to ask for help is a vitally important attribute in coping with mental health conditions. As the stigma around this subject is reduced and more information about treatment becomes available, we are moving in the right direction. However, many people coping with anxiety are still unwilling or unable to access supports that they need.


Anxiety disorder and co-occurring addiction can be treated effectively with evidence-based methods. If you choose to participate in a treatment program, there are a number of factors to consider before deciding upon a treatment provider, which are discussed in detail here.

Treatment programs for anxiety disorder and co-occurring addiction should incorporate individual therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. These treatment methods are evidence-based and effective. They are also adaptable to the needs of the individual.


If you have been using addictive substances such as alcohol, marijuana or prescription medications to self-medicate for anxiety, you may require withdrawal management as part of your treatment. Withdrawal from any addictive substance is a complex and potentially dangerous process. When anxiety is co-occurring alongside addiction, there are some specific issues that require management. If the brain has come to rely upon substances to cope with anxiety, it may become over-active in the absence of these substances. This can lead to hyper-anxiety or panic attacks.

Withdrawal management involves the supervision of the acute phase of the withdrawal process, followed by monitoring of the post-acute phase. In some cases, if a client may be endangered by the process, a doctor may prescribe medications for withdrawal management. These medications should only be taken precisely as prescribed as they may be addictive.

During withdrawal, clients coping with concurrent anxiety and addiction may experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms. The psychological symptoms may include intense anxiety, agitation, depression and paranoia. The physical symptoms will depend upon the substances the individual was using. Once a client has progressed through the acute withdrawal phase, they will be ready to begin treatment.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has proven effective in treating anxiety and addiction. The CBT process involves teaching the client to adapt their thought patterns and emotional regulation to better manage mental health and behaviour. It helps clients to identify progressive coping strategies that will reduce anxiety and cravings for addictive substances. CBT is a crucial part of many treatment programs for addiction and concurrent mental health disorders.

Cue-Exposure Therapy

Cue-Exposure Therapy, or Virtual Reality Therapy, has proven effective in treating anxiety and addiction. This therapy involves creating simulations or scenarios that are triggering for clients. These scenarios could involve relapse triggers for a person addicted to alcohol, for example, such as a bar or a party.

For someone coping with anxiety disorder, the scenarios could be any situations likely to cause anxiety, such as a stressful situation at work. The client can practice recovery methods in these scenarios in a controlled environment and with the support of their therapist. They can then put these recovery methods into practice when they encounter these kinds of situations in real life.


A doctor may prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines during treatment for anxiety and addiction. However, these medications are often addictive. If you are prescribed medications, you should take them precisely as prescribed and should monitor your use and any symptoms you may have with your doctor and treatment provider.

Concurrent Disorders

Treatment for anxiety and co-occurring addiction should be evidence-based and client-centred. This means that it should use methods which have proven effective in treating the relevant conditions and should be adaptable to the needs of the client. If you have any other mental health conditions, you should make this clear when communicating with your treatment provider. A good treatment program will take a comprehensive approach to treatment, addressing the underlying causes of anxiety and addiction, rather than treating these conditions in isolation.

Relapse & Aftercare

Many people in recovery from addiction will experience relapse at some point. This should not be taken as a sign of failure, but as a disruption to lasting recovery and an opportunity to learn. The relapse rate is also higher for people in recovery who are also coping with anxiety. Anxiety may increase in recovery as previous coping methods are no longer available.

If you do experience relapse, it is important to understand why it occurred in order to avoid relapse in the future. You may need to make adaptations to your recovery plan or re-enter treatment. If you have stopped attending aftercare meetings or support groups, it is also a good idea to recommit to them. Maintaining a commitment to aftercare or other recovery meetings you attend will help to avoid future relapses.

If you have any questions about treatment for addiction and co-occurring anxiety disorder, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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