The Connection Between Addiction and Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in the United States, with recent statistics reporting they affect around 18% of the population. While anxiety is often thought to develop as a person grows into adulthood, this isn’t always the case. According to the CDC, 7.1% of children between 3 and 17 years old are diagnosed with the disorder. One of the common coping mechanisms employed to battle anxiety is to ‘self-medicate’, which makes young adults/teenagers especially vulnerable.

There are many things young people face when they are coming of age that can make them feel outcast, alone, and susceptible to external influences. This might include pressures of making friends, keeping up with grades in school, navigating romantic relationships, tension at home, etc. The temptation of experimenting with drugs and alcohol to fit in with others while simultaneously alleviating feelings of anxiety may seem too good to pass up, and, even if they had been warned, they will likely buckle. If their anxiety is not diagnosed properly, it can seem like this is the way they can treat it themselves.

The substances will then alleviate the symptoms of their anxiety when they are at their most vulnerable. From there, substances will seem like the perfect anecdote, when really they will exacerbate the symptoms and could lead to a dangerous addiction.


Elevating from Experimentation to Abuse

When an anxiety disorder is present, there is often a component of depression. The initial effects of alcohol and recreational drugs (i.e. marijuana) give feelings of euphoria and pleasant thoughts. Because the individual is uncomfortable with how they feel in reality, they might become addicted to the substances that take them out of it. This can help them manage irritability, negative thoughts, and other painful feelings they wish to avoid. Once the person becomes addicted, it will be the solution to all of their problems and begin to take precedence over other things in their life. Their grades may slip, they might lose interest in hobbies they once loved, and friends who are not on board with using will fade from importance. The substances will also impact their minds as they are continuing to develop, as the brain is still maturing during the teenage years.

Adverse childhood events, such as abuse or discord at home, seem to increase the risk for substance dependence in adolescence and into adulthood, with one study finding that anxiety and mood disorders usually present about 3 years prior to substance abuse. Adolescent and young adult children of alcoholic parents also display high rates of substance abuse, with some evidence pointing to high degrees of depression and anxiety, as well. If a person has experienced situations where they feel powerless or hurt, they will use substances as a vehicle to remove themselves as much as they can.


Treatment for Concurrent Anxiety and Addiction

While we are not sure an addiction can be totally prevented, there are ways to make sure a young person is supported enough that they will not reach for drugs and alcohol to help them with what they are feeling inside. If they are experimenting with substances in worrying amounts and are not getting a handle on their anxiety, it might be time to reach out for professional help.

If a person has an untreated anxiety disorder, their substance use will be more difficult to evaluate, and vice versa. Their symptoms of anxiety may be covered up by the substance abuse, but when the substances are taken from them or dwindle, they will feel their anxiety even more so if they have become physically addicted. The withdrawal effects and/or hangover symptoms brought on from alcohol and drug use often come with their own onslaught of unpleasantries, including the very anxiety they were first trying to escape from.

Addiction treatment may begin with ridding the body of substances, but it is just that—a beginning. At Granite Recovery Centers, we employ the 12 Steps, which aim to address the underlying worries, justifications, and emotional roadblocks that drive the desire to escape. The reasons a person uses have often been festering inside of them for their whole life, and drawing them out carefully and therapeutically is a way to process and reckon with them so they can heal and move forward.


Treatment at Granite Recovery Centers

Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire offers numerous forms of clinical psychotherapy in its addiction rehab and recovery programs. Clinically-backed psychotherapy, in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma and grief therapy, and other kinds of cognitive behavioral interventions, help clients treat their anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders that hold them back from recovery and happiness. In addition to therapy, our addiction recovery programs are grounded in 12-Step work and bolstered by holistic care, such as meditation and yoga instruction. These modalities all work together to improve emotional and mental health by giving clients an explanation for, and a road out of their substance abuse, while lessening anxiety, and serving as healthy coping mechanisms to replace substance abuse.

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse fueled by anxiety, depression, or other co-occurring disorders, we can help. If you have questions about our integrated care model for treating substance abuse, or would like more info about admissions or any of our facilities, please call us today at 866.420.6222.

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