Did you know, anxiety is one of the worst contributors to addictive behaviour?
We all experience some level of anxiety throughout our lives. It is an essential part of life and survival, however, there is a vast difference between a temporary stress, such as a problem at work or making an important life decision, and having an anxiety disorder.
An anxiety disorder is described as a state of excessive nervousness and apprehension, often accompanied with compulsive and addictive behaviour or panic attacks. It’s no wonder that people with anxiety would seek out some form of relief to calm, numb or relax themselves, even if it is only temporary.
Now it is important to note here that everybody has something they turn to when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Whether it’s an ice cold beer just to take the edge off after a long day, or
zoning out for a couple of hours to escape by binge-watching your favourite series, we all have our go-to ‘remedies’ that work to help us feel better.
The problem creeps in when that ‘remedy’ becomes a regular means of escape, and you find yourself giving in to the temptation to escape more and more. Those in the addiction world are fully aware of the unbridled relationship between anxiety and addiction, and the problem is so significant that it is safe to say that if we aren’t suffering from either, we certainly know someone who is.
Anxiety and Addiction
There have been many articles written about the relationship between anxiety and addiction as it relates to alcohol and drugs, but there are other forms of self-medicating that may not seem as harmful, yet can be detrimental to a person’s mental health. These include things such as shopping, gambling, food, sex, pain medication, working, exercising and excessive time online on our digital devices.
While some of these may seem to be a perfectly harmless distraction, any action that become compulsive and continues despite harmful consequences is an addiction that needs to be addressed.
But why does this happen?
The Brain’s Role in Anxiety and Addiction
Addictive behaviours directly or indirectly target the reward system of the brain by inundating the circuit with dopamine, the neurotransmitter present in zones of the brain that regulate emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure.
When activated naturally, at normal levels, this system serves as our reward centre, encouraging these behaviours, so when a person engages in a behaviour for relief from anxiety, whether it be shopping, eating, gambling, sex or any source of temporary relief and pleasure, the effect of such a powerful reward strongly motivates people to return to that source of relief again and again.
For example, technology addiction is becoming more and more prevalent today as a means to self-medicate anxiety disorders. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, flooding the system produces uncharacteristically high euphoric effects, which more strongly reinforce the behaviour of drug use.
With substances the release occurs almost immediately (when drugs are smoked or injected), and the effects can last much longer than those produced by natural rewards such as sex. Without the continued use that individual will often suffer from increased anxiety because of the absence of the substance.
The effects that emotional and mental issues have on our lives is destructive to begin with, and when a person is walking a tight rope between two mental disorders, anxiety and addiction, the dual diagnosis is a vicious cycle that requires treatment. Treatment must be administered by a professional for those struggling to learn how to manage it effectively.
With the prevalence of mental disorders increasing in our modern world, it is becoming more and more important to be able to function normally and healthily and to live a fulfilling and rewarding life. Not least for those people around you, at work or otherwise.
The good news is that there are ways to handle stress and anxiety in a natural and healthy way.
You can find more information on ways to naturally and safely calm anxiety here