Is Substance Use Magnifying Your Anxiety Symptoms

Substance use

Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make, makes you. – John C. Maxwell

Are you a coffee person or a tea person? A lot of people crave their evening tea or morning coffee, especially when they are stressed about something or had a long day. How do you feel when you finally get your favourite cup of coffee/tea? Refreshing, calm, relaxed, right? Be with that feeling while moving ahead understanding this mechanism a little bit more, and see if it is really a healthy choice that we make.

Anxiety, a word that’s been a part of our conversations in the last couple of years more than ever. How come so many people have started feeling anxious at the same time, suddenly? Is it really a sudden change in emotions or is it something we have finally started acknowledging? Sometimes we may not even be sure what anxiety actually feels like.

Well, the experience of feeling anxious can vary from person to person. But let’s look at some common symptoms first –

  • Feeling restless
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Unable to think clearly or concentrate
  • Heavy breathing, feeling on the edge
  • Constant feeling of worry about the future

Imagine a person going through such symptoms, think about what it is that they would want at that moment. To feel relieved is something that makes them feel calm and relaxed and takes away their worrisome thoughts and feelings. This need for instant relief and gratification leads to making the choice of seeking this relief through substance use in some people.

While we do know how substance use impacts our health in general, why is it that people still rely on it to deal with their anxiety? A huge amount of research has been done in this area that shows that people who have anxiety issues and resort to substance use to deal with it get stuck in a vicious cycle of comorbid mental and physical illnesses.

The limbic system in our brain consists of a brain reward circuit that regulates our ability to feel pleasure. In the presence of a reward, a neurotransmitter called dopamine – the pleasure hormone, is released. The Dopamine transporters regulate this release of hormones but substances like drugs and alcohol hamper this mechanism and the excess amount of dopamine gives the person a relaxed yet pleasurable feeling, which in turn encourages them to repeat this behavior, leading to unhealthy consequences.

Here is a comparison of how people think that substance use may be helping them in

dealing with anxiety while what it actually does in the long run:

  • It makes them feel calm for a short while but also makes them addicted to the substance because that’s their go-to rescue while feeling anxious and apparently the only thing that makes them feel relaxed. 
  • It helps them avoid negative thoughts and worries, but it also neglects the real issues that need to be addressed for a sustainable solution.
  • It feels like their anxiety is getting better, but it is actually adding to their reasons for being anxious. Now they will be even more vulnerable in the absence of that substance and experience withdrawal symptoms along with anxiety.
  • It seems like we are addressing the anxiety and trying to work on it, but actually, it makes it even more difficult to detect real anxiety because the symptoms of substance abuse and withdrawal symptoms are so similar, that it becomes difficult to separate these two issues.

What happens to you when you don’t get that cup of tea in the evening? Something that you apparently like drinking for feeling calm, suddenly the absence of it makes you feel anxious and you may even have physical symptoms, headaches being the most common one.

This is how people get stuck in the loop of ‘dealing’ with anxiety and getting addicted to substances like alcohol, drugs and even caffeine. And this is where the role of our choices comes into play. While for a person who is going through adversity, it may be difficult to make the right choice, it still paves the path of their future.

There needs to be a shift in this decision-making process and opt for healthier coping mechanisms by making a conscious effort of understanding your own coping mechanisms and accepting the need to work on it, that can help people manage their anxiety, without inviting other illnesses into their life.

Know More at – How to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthier manner?

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