Drug abuse is a serious problem - especially in those with anxiety. Everyone focuses on the health dangers of regular drug use because there are many. But there are also significant issues that can affect your mental health as well.
This article explores some of the many problems associated with drug use and abuse, and how they affect anxiety and stress/
Using Drugs Because of Anxiety?
Anxiety is something that cannot be controlled with drug use - it can only be temporarily numbed. If you truly want to control your anxiety, take my free 7 minute anxiety test now.
Problems With Drug Abuse
Some people turn to drugs because their lives have too much stress and anxiety already. Others develop anxiety and stress because they are abusing drugs. Before you begin, make sure you take my free 7 minute [=anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety.
There are several issues related to drug use and anxiety. Only a small portion of these include:
- Symptoms Some drugs create symptoms of anxiety directly. Most stimulants create extreme levels of anxiety, and even some depressants can cause anxiety when the body adjusts after the drug levels have decreased. Alcohol is an example of a drug that tends to cause anxiety when your body starts to remove it.
- Withdrawal Similarly, the vast majority of drugs cause severe anxiety during the withdrawal phases. This is because the body becomes addicted to the drug, and when it fades the person's body cries out for more of it using anxiety as one of its primary communicators.
- Legality Legal issues and sneaking around may also create anxiety. Most drugs are illegal and/or are taken by those whose family and friends would not approve. Many people that do drugs are also poor or homeless as a result of the expenses, or they engage with people that are dangerous or spend time in dangerous situations. All of these create more anxiety.
These are the basics that most people that do drugs are aware of. But perhaps the greatest issue is one that few people realize - that drug use is a counterproductive coping strategy in the long term, and can make your normal day to day anxiety worse even if you never use the drug again.
The Importance of Healthy Stress Coping Strategies
Everyone's life is filled with stressors, both small and large. Stress is a common experience - even if you have a "charmed life," you're likely to experience some degree of stress with the people you spend time with, your family, your finances, etc. Stress is natural, and while it's important for your mental and physical health to try to live as stress free as possible, it's not possible to be 100% stress free.
One of the issues that appear to affect drug recovery is the idea that those that have turned to drugs and alcohol are often left without any healthy, productive coping strategies. The ability to mentally and physically cope with stress is an underrated skill - one that has to be learned. Without a healthy coping strategy, even a minute amount of stress or anxiety becomes considerably more stressful, to the point where the individual turns to the coping strategy they know best. In the cause of those with substance abuse issues, that coping strategy is often drugs and/or alcohol.
Effective vs. Ineffective Coping Tools
Drugs and alcohol are not the only examples of ineffective coping strategies. Some people go shopping when they're stressed, buying clothes as a way to cope. Others go gambling. Still others simply hang out with people that are not supportive or unable to give productive help.
But drug use is certainly one of the most problematic. Not only do they not truly reduce stress, they also cause problems that make it harder to reduce stress in the future. That's because drugs (and other unhealthy coping strategies) numb the problem with temporary relief, taking over so that the brain doesn't have to do any work.
They don't deal with the stress itself. Rather, they provide a tool that allows the person to not deal with the stress temporarily. That makes them not effective at long term stress reduction, and it prevents them from using other coping strategies to truly overcome the stress.
The Long Term Effects of Problem Numbing
What makes numbing the stress so damaging is that a large part of stress reduction is simply the mental ability to overcome that stress - through things like positive thinking, hope, etc. Stress reduction is like a muscle, and when you use tools like drugs to numb anxiety for you, you don't use that muscle. It ends up becoming weaker.
There are plenty of anxiety and stress reduction strategies, of course. Examples include deep breathing, yoga, and even skipping stones at the park - all of these are healthy strategies that give a person a sense of relaxation and the ability to overcome the issues in their life. But the greatest tool for overcoming stress is simply a mindset that finds stress less overwhelming.
When a person relies on one of these numbing strategies, they lose that mindset. They lose that ability to overcome stress simply by their own thoughts and outlook. Their coping mechanism becomes a crutch, and they often find that they're unable to control their stress without turning to their relief system.
What Happens When You Don't Work Your Stress Muscle
For those that are recovering from substance abuse or currently using drugs, this means that every stressor they face in their life is essentially pushing them back to the one thing they know to use to relieve that stress (drugs).
It's not just about the addiction and the brain chemistry - although certainly those things play a tremendous role in substance issues. It's also the ability to simply overcome things on your own, knowing that the future will be better, without turning to some form of temporary treatment as a method of cutting back on stress. Without that help for anxiety, there will always be a pull to go back to the only quick coping mechanism you know.
There's a reason that simply quitting drugs is not an effective form of recovery, and why those that do drugs often go back to drugs when they're stressed - which is more often than the rest of the population. These people have lost their ability to cope with stress because they keep numbing it with drugs.
Get Your Anxiety Reduction Ability Back
You need to learn to build back that mindset that is ready and able to recover from small, medium, and even large stresses. You need to learn to care about yourself, to have hope, and to genuinely feel positive about life. Only once you've learned more productive coping mechanisms will you be able to fight back anxiety and prevent any desire to go back to drugs or alcohol.
I've helped many people that have struggled with stress and anxiety overcome their issues without drugs. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test, and learn more about what it takes to truly overcome your symptoms.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated May 14, 2018.