Co-Occurring Disorder in Women: Understanding Anxiety and Addiction

Understanding a dual diagnosis an essential part of addiction treatment. Moreover, addressing underlying mental health issues, like anxiety, is key to getting patients the help they need.

This post will explain co-occurring disorder, also known as dual diagnosis. We’ll look at it in the context of anxiety. Use this information to take action and get yourself or someone you love the help they need.

What is Anxiety?

Everyone experiences anxiety. It is that nervous feeling you get about how something will work out. However, there’s a difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders.

anxiety and addiction

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in America. 18.1% of Americans deal with some type of anxiety disorder every year. There are several types of anxiety disorders. We’ll talk about some of the most common ones.

GAD is defined by constant and excessive worry about lots of things. These things include money, work, family, health, or anything else. People with this disorder worry more than they need to. Also, they expect the worst-case outcome for no reason.

6.8 million adults – 3.1% of the U.S. population – experience GAD each year. The disorder is twice as likely to affect women than men. Moreover, only 43.2% of people with the condition get the treatment they need.

As a result, people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder face many challenges. It can make it hard to hold a job. Worries about job performance can prevent people from getting promotions and raises. It also makes social interaction more difficult.

Nearly everyone has panicked at some point. However, people with Panic Disorder have unexpected panic attacks. These attacks can happen for any reason or none at all. People with PD become obsessed with the fear of another panic attack.

As a result, these people may have problems holding a job. Their fear of another panic attack makes social events hard. Women are twice as likely to have Panic Disorder as men.

Individuals with panic disorder may struggle to feel comfortable in the world. This impacts their job and social life. It also prevents them from enjoying themselves. This happens because they view everything through the lens of a possible panic attack.

Social Anxiety Disorder is the second most common anxiety disorder in America. 15 million American adults deal with SAD every year. The disorder is an extreme fear of being judged and rejected. People who have the disorder worry that others will think they’re stupid, awkward, boring, or ugly.

One consequence of SAD is that people avoid social situations. They know that their fear is unreasonable. However, they can’t control their feelings. This can cause people to miss out on job opportunities, friendships, romantic relationships, and more.

Anxiety Medication: Risks and Benefits

There are several medications to treat anxiety. The two most common types are antidepressants and benzodiazepines. Like any medication, these drugs have risks as well as benefits. It’s extremely important to understand how medication works. This is especially true when you’re talking about oc-occurring disorders.

Antidepressants are usually the first choice for treating anxiety. Specifically, doctors recommend selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Serotonin is a chemical your body makes naturally. It plays an important part in regulating mood.

SSRIs can be very effective for anxiety disorders. They help balance your brain chemistry. This helps people face their challenges. They can reduce anxiety and worry. Also, they aren’t addictive. Some examples include:

  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Lexapro

However, these drugs don’t work for everyone. Moreover, we don’t really understand how these drugs work. They can cause mood swings. SSRIs can also make a mental health problem worse. Sometimes people move through several different medications before they find one that works.

This can cause some problems. Brain chemistry is a tricky thing. Moving from drug to drug creates issues. That makes it harder to get better.

Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are also frequently recommended for anxiety. This is a class of drugs that cause a calming effect. Sometimes they’re called a “chill pill.” Common benzos include:

  • Klonopin
  • Ativan
  • Valium
  • Xanax

The benefit of these drugs is that they work very quickly. Moreover, the calming effect is works well for reducing anxiety. They are prescribed for GAD, PD, and SAD.

However, there are substantial downsides to these drugs. First, they are addictive. Doctors usually don’t prescribe them for more than a month. Additionally, you can get serious withdrawal effects if you stop them suddenly.

Anxiety Coping Skills

There are also several anxiety coping skills. People practice these skills to help control their anxiety. These skills can be anything from anxiety worksheets to lifestyle changes.

For example, limiting alcohol and caffeine can help reduce anxiety. You can also lower anxiety by exercising daily. Getting enough sleep and eating balanced meals also helps. These steps are part of everyday self-care routines.

Other people benefit from behavior modification therapy. The goal of therapy is to understand what causes anxiety and panic. The person then learns steps to reduce their anxiety. They also learn how to act even when they’re feeling anxious.

Therapy has another benefit. It doesn’t have the side effects that you get with drugs. There’s no addiction. There’s also no dry mouth, blurry vision, or fatigue. Therefore, therapy is one of the best tools. This is true for treating either addiction or anxiety.

What is Co-Occurring Disorder?

Co-occurring disorder is when you have a mental health and substance use disorder. For example, a person with Bipolar disorder and substance abuse. It is also called a dual diagnosis. It requires a more specialized treatment than either issue by itself.

The statistics for dual diagnosis show how big of an issue it is. Nearly 4 million Americans have a serious mental health disorder and a co-occurring substance use issue. It is estimated that 2.4% of full time workers have a dual diagnosis.

An even sadder fact is that nearly 50% of people with a dual diagnosis don’t get any treatment. Moreover, of those treated, only 5% got treatment for both things.

Additionally, this number is up from the past. Between 1995 and 2001 the proportion of women getting treatment for co-occurring disorder went up from 28% to 45%. That is good progress. However, too many women still don’t get the treatment they need.

These statistics give a shocking look at the situation women face. Women have a lower rate of drug abuse than men. However, women face more barriers to treatment.

Medical professionals are less likely to ask women about substance abuse. Women also have a harder time acknowledging drug and alcohol problems.

Co-occurring disorders can come from genetics, environment, or a combination of the two. Every person is unique. As a result, every cause of dual diagnosis is unique.

People with co-occurring disorders are more likely to relapse. This happens because most people only get treatment for one issue. However, without complete treatment, a person’s triggers for substance use remain.

There are some myths surrounding dual diagnosis. Some think that one disorder caused the other. However, that’s not the case. It’s very difficult to determine which came first. This situation requires a more complex understanding.

Drug abuse can lead to mental illness symptoms. Mental disorders can lead to drug abuse. However, both are affected by lots of other things. Some examples include:

  • Genetic vulnerabilities that overlap
  • Environmental triggers that overlap
  • Similar brain regions handle stress and rewards

Addiction Treatment for Women with Co-Occurring Disorder

Treatment for co-occurring disorders must be done very carefully. Most people respond best to a mix of therapy and medication. However, an existing substance use disorder makes things harder. After all, some of the most effective pills for treating anxiety are addictive.

It’s not always obvious when someone has co-occurring disorder. Screening for dual diagnosis is a best practice. However, it’s not done everywhere.

It’s also important to know what kind of treatments work best. There’s a lot of talk about dual diagnosis. Some solutions are solid. Others don’t work. Still others are simply scams. The best co-occurring disorder treatment is integrated and based on evidence.

A person can’t get the treatment they need if no one knows they need it. Screening for dual diagnosis is a vital step to providing the right care and treatment.

The screening process for co-occurring disorders can take time. Most screening tools involve interviews, reviewing clinical histories, and more.  Proper screening requires intense training. After all, it’s difficult to spot a dual diagnosis. Moreover, it’s even harder to understand how the two diagnoses relate to each other.

However, screening is important. It’s almost impossible to design an effective treatment without it. That does beg a question though. What is the best treatment for dual diagnosis?

It’s vital to treat both the mental illness and substance abuse. Treating the mental health issue without treating the substance abuse doesn’t work. It doesn’t create the stability needed for proper healing. Treating the substance use without treating the mental health creates a risk for relapse.

Also, integrated treatment is more effective. Confusion and mistakes happen when treatment isn’t integrated. A doctor treating anxiety might be unaware that their patient has substance abuse issues. As a result, they might prescribe addictive benzodiazepines.

In the same way, a doctor treating substance abuse also has challenges. Failure to treat the underlying mental illness risks relapse. Moreover, anxiety disorders and substance abuse might be related. They both affect the same parts of the brain. Knowing this, a doctor can spot the best ways to treat all of a patient’s issues.

Also, a doctor will adjust their approach if they know they’re dealing with a dual diagnosis. Using the wrong approach can delay or even prevent recovery. However, any approach needs to be based on evidence.

Mental health and substance abuse are tricky. Both concepts are still relatively new in terms of human history. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that doctors were bleeding patients to balance their humors.

Advances in modern science offers a solution. Studies show that people with co-occurring disorders respond best to evidence based practice.

Evidence-based practice means understanding what has worked in other cases. Doctors use treatments that work. They stop using treatments that don’t work. That’s why no modern doctor’s office has a jar of leeches ready to go. That method simply doesn’t work.

There are several different factors for treatment. For example, the length of treatment, inpatient vs. outpatient treatment, different therapies, and different medications all affect a treatment’s success. That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to seek help from qualified professionals.

The best dual diagnosis treatment centers focus on finding the methods that worked best in the past. They look things patients have in common. They reuse what works. They get rid of treatments that didn’t work.

Gender Specific Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

There is one thing evidence agrees on. Gender specific dual diagnosis treatment is effective for women. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that women who get gender specific treatment have better outcomes. They’re more likely have a job. This helps prevent relapse.

Several factors play into the benefits of gender specific treatment for women. Physical differences, vulnerability, and stigmatization influence women in treatment. Getting tailored help is more effective than treatment designed for someone else.

For example, physical differences play a huge role. It’s true that women are less likely to develop a drug or alcohol addiction. However, when it happens it progresses faster. Addiction also has a larger effect on women’s bodies.

Women also face unique challenges because of the stigma attached to addiction and gender. Society expects, and even makes excuses for, men abusing substances. However, society wrongly looks down on women who do the same things.

Gender specific treatment corrects these challenges. It provides a supportive environment. Medical professionals adapt their approach to women’s bodies. Moreover, gender specific treatment helps doctors focus on how addiction uniquely affects women.

Get the Help You Need for Co-Occurring Addiction and Anxiety

Dealing with addiction is difficult. So is dealing with anxiety. Facing both issues can feel impossible. However, there are options. Use the information in this post to find help. Either for yourself or someone you care about. A dual diagnosis is difficult. However, it isn’t impossible. Integrated treatment and evidence-based approaches offer a path forward. Gender-specific treatment also makes the road to recovery easier to walk. Getting treatment can be the first step to a brighter tomorrow.