So why isn’t it easier to quit drinking or using? It helps to understand the connection between addiction and anxiety.
Stress and Substance Use
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, more than 20 million American adults and teens have a substance use disorder. Of those, 2 million misuse prescription pain pills. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 15.1 million people in the United States struggle with alcohol abuse.
Some people use alcohol or drugs to relieve stress or anxiety. Drinking may ease the discomfort for a while, but the relief is short-lived. Over time, it takes more and more to feel better. Eventually, it’s hard to stop.
Risk of Addiction
Adverse childhood events, or ACEs, increase the risk of substance use as an adult. ACEs include:
- Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Emotional or physical neglect
- A parent being mistreated by a partner
- Substance use in the home
- Mental health issues in the home
- A parent in jail
Living through any of these traumas as a child can make your body and brain more sensitive to any type of stress. As an adult, you might find you often feel anxious or depressed. Thanks to research on ACEs, we know the impact of childhood traumas adds up. The more ACEs you have experienced, the more likely you are to have a mental health issue, take risks, use alcohol or other substances, or have physical health problems later in life.
Change Is a Challenge
Many people who struggle with substance use find it hard to accept the idea of never using again. This is especially true when the drug of choice is alcohol.
Trying to limit or stop drinking is hard because alcohol is a part of so many social events, including wine tastings, happy hours, weddings, and other get-togethers. Many people fear what might happen if they say they have a problem with alcohol. They worry and wonder:
Many people who struggle with substance use find it hard to accept the idea of never using again.
“If I stop drinking, will I lose my friends?”
“What will my friends or family think about me if I decide to stop?”
“What will people think if I admit I have a problem?”
“If I think I have a problem, does that mean I can never drink again?”
“What does it mean if I don’t want to stop?”
Sobriety and Anxiety
Anxiety can show up when you decide it’s time to do things differently. It can be hard to know whether the stress and anxiety are caused by mixed feelings about stopping or worries about the unknown future, or whether the anxiety was already there. Many people have anxiety as they begin to make changes. The anxious feelings make them uncomfortable. The discomfort can be emotional and physical. Sometimes, they have the urge to drink to ease the discomfort.
Learning ways to manage anxiety can help reduce the urge to drink or use. Relaxation and grounding skills can help lower the body’s stress levels. Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful, too. Through practice, you can start to see what makes you want to drink. Mindfulness can make you more aware of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that might surface as you try to change.
How Therapy Helps
Understanding all the factors that contribute to your substance use, including anxiety, can help you put plans in place to curb the behavior. Therapy can help you better understand how a difficult childhood might be affecting you. Therapy can teach you relaxation and coping skills and how to manage your urges. It can also help you find compassion for the part of you that uses substances to cope.
Whether you decide to control your drinking or stop, therapy can help you make the change. The therapist’s job isn’t to tell you what to do or make you feel bad about your behavior. It’s to help you learn to manage your use of alcohol or other substances in ways that feel comfortable to you.
- About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study. (2016, June 14). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
- Alcohol facts and statistics. (2017). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
- Opioid addiction 2016 facts & figures. (2016). American Society of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
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