Understanding Adolescent Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder
Adolescence can be difficult for many young people in Dedham, MA, as they navigate through a period of change and transition. For those struggling with anxiety disorders, this time can be particularly challenging.
Adolescent anxiety and substance use disorder often occur together, creating a complex and challenging situation for young people. Research has shown that individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop substance use problems, as they may use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with their symptoms. On the other hand, substance use can also lead to an increase in anxiety symptoms and can even trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder. It is important for families and healthcare providers to be aware of this connection and to address both issues simultaneously to provide the most effective treatment and support for the adolescent. Comprehensive and integrated treatment approaches that address both anxiety and substance use can positively impact the adolescent’s overall well-being and future outcomes.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal feeling of worry or fear that most people experience from time to time. However, when feelings of anxiety become persistent and interfere with daily life, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are characterized by sudden and intense feelings of fear, worry, and panic that can last long. These feelings can make it difficult for an adolescent to engage in normal daily activities and can be hard to control.
Types of Anxiety Disorders in Adolescents
There are several types of anxiety disorders that can affect adolescents, including:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
This type of anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive worry that interferes with daily routines. Adolescents with GAD may experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, trouble concentrating, muscle tension, or sleeping issues. They may worry about everyday tasks, such as school responsibilities, family health concerns, or even minor appointments or chores.
The main symptom of panic disorder is frequent panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of overwhelming psychological and physical distress. Adolescents with panic disorder may experience symptoms such as sweating, chest pain, chills or hot flashes, nausea, dizziness, trembling, shaking, palpitations, a feeling of detachment, or fear of dying.
A specific phobia is a persistent and excessive fear of a specific situation, object, or activity. Adolescents with phobias know that their fear is unrealistic, but they still cannot overcome it. They may go to great lengths to avoid the object of their fear.
This is the fear of being unable to escape or feeling embarrassed in a situation. Adolescents with agoraphobia may fear that they will be unable to get help if they have a panic attack. Their fear can last for six months or more and is often out of proportion to the situation that triggers their anxiety.
Social Anxiety Disorder:
Adolescents with social anxiety disorder experience intense discomfort in social situations, fearing embarrassment, rejection, humiliation, or being looked down upon. They may avoid social situations or experience tremendous anxiety when they are in them.
Separation Anxiety Disorder:
Adolescents with separation anxiety disorder are excessively fearful of separating from people they are attached to. This anxiety can last longer than appropriate for their age and cause issues with daily function. They may have difficulty sleeping away from those they are attached to and may worry about something happening to their loved ones.
Substance Use Disorder and Co-Occurring Anxiety
For adolescents struggling with both anxiety and substance use disorders, it is important to understand that these conditions can exacerbate one another. Substance abuse can increase anxiety symptoms, while untreated anxiety can lead to increased substance abuse as a way to cope.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Adolescent Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder
Adolescents with anxiety and substance use disorders require specialized treatment that addresses both conditions. A comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional is the first step in diagnosing adolescent anxiety and substance use disorders. The evaluation may include a medical examination, psychological evaluation, and substance abuse assessment to determine the specific type of anxiety disorder and substance use disorder.
In treating adolescent anxiety and substance use disorders, a combination of therapies is often used. Medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta-blockers may be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms. In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and exposure therapy are effective in treating anxiety disorders.
Behavioral therapies, such as contingency management and motivational interviewing, are effective for substance use disorders. Medications such as naltrexone and buprenorphine can also help with cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
It’s important to note that recovery from co-occurring adolescent anxiety and substance use disorders can be a long-term process, and ongoing support and treatment are critical for success. Family involvement and support are also crucial in the treatment process, as they can help to improve the overall prognosis and reduce the risk of relapse.