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Everyone experiences anxious thoughts or feelings at some point in their lives, whether it is the butterflies in anticipation of speaking in public or the worry over waiting for the results of a medical test. Anxiety disorders take those uncomfortable feelings and make them a part of each day, interfering with your function and lowering your quality of life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the U.S. today. Around 40 million adults have an anxiety disorder, which makes up 18 percent of the entire population. In addition, about eight percent of children and adolescents have an anxiety disorder and most people diagnosed with the condition exhibit symptom before the age of 21.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are characterized by regular, intensive episodes of anxiety the interfere with daily function. The anxiety does not go away and often becomes worse over time. The events may become severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. For example, some people suffering from an anxiety disorder may avoid certain places or activities due to the intense feelings they evoke. Chronic anxiety can also lead to physical symptoms like muscle tension, headaches and sleep disorders. In many cases, the anxiety cannot be controlled or managed without professional treatment.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are a variety of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – characterized by significant worrying about the events of daily life
  • Panic Disorder – people with this condition suffer sudden episodes of terror or panic attacks that strike without warning and cause both mental and physical symptoms
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – intense fear about social interactions that leads people to avoid situations or events that could provoke the anxious feelings
  • Phobias – significant and irrational fear about an object, place or events that lead to avoidance of those things
  • Agoraphobia – panic or intense fear that drives people to avoid situations or places that evoke feelings of being trapped or helpless

Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders

Some anxiety disorders can be linked to an underlying medical condition or a particular medication. For example, heart disease, diabetes or thyroid conditions are sometimes related to the onset of anxiety. This is typically the case in patients that have not had a personal or family history of anxiety and don’t find the symptoms to be severe enough to avoid situations or places. People that do not fall into this category may be at higher risk for an anxiety disorder due to the following factors:

  • A family history of anxiety disorders
  • Shyness or inhibited behaviors during childhood
  • Trauma or abuse in childhood (adults that experience trauma can also be at higher risk)
  • A major life event, such as death or divorce
  • Serious illness or chronic health condition
  • Diagnosis of other mental illnesses
  • Long-term substance abuse

Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder

Symptoms of an anxiety disorder will vary, based on the individual and the specific disorder that is diagnosed. Some of the common signs of this condition are:

  • Excessive and persistent fear or worry
  • Apprehension or constant feelings of dread with no cause
  • Jumpiness, restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Intense urge to avoid anxiety triggers

Physical symptoms are also frequent in people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which might include:

  • Increased heart rate, often described as a racing heart
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Feeling like the heart is pounding in the chest
  • Sleep disruptions, yet easily fatigued
  • Stomach upset, frequent bouts of diarrhea
  • Sweating, trembling or tremors
  • Muscle tension

You may not experience all these symptoms, but if many on the list sound familiar, it is possible you might have an anxiety disorder. These conditions can be especially challenging for professionals in high-profile industries like medicine, law or aviation. People in these professions that struggle with anxiety may turn to substances to manage their symptoms. However, the “management” through substance use is likely to become more of a problem than a solution over time.

Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse

It is not at all uncommon for people with anxiety disorders to also struggle with drug or alcohol abuse. In fact, as many as 20 percent of those with a substance abuse disorder also have an anxiety disorder. In some cases, the anxiety comes first, and substances are used to try to mask the symptoms and cope with daily life. However, as substance use turns to abuse, a co-occurring disorder can develop, exacerbating both conditions. Others may find that substance abuse is a culprit in the onset of anxiety or worsens symptoms of a condition. When a co-occurring disorder is present, treatment options need to address both conditions simultaneously to ensure the greatest odds of success.

Treatment Options

Treatment for anxiety disorders usually consists of a combination of therapies that address the condition on every level. Modalities might include:

  • Medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications
  • Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, which often includes cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT
  • Lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise options that have been shown to relieve the symptoms of anxiety

When a co-occurring disorder is present, it is imperative to find a facility with experience in treating both the anxiety and the substance abuse at the same time. At Center for Professional Recovery, we offer treatment for co-occurring disorders, catering to professionals like doctors, lawyers and pilots to provide the care, privacy and support these individuals need to experience effective treatment and long-term recovery. To learn more about our center, contact us today at 866.298.0056.

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