Every teenager experiences anxiety. Teen years are a roller coaster. Social strata, peer pressure, the need to excel in school in order to get into a first-choice college. Coupled with hormones, urges, emotions. Teen years are also a time for experimentation. Many test the waters with alcohol and drugs. Some teens use substances to escape from what they are feeling; others come to rely on drugs just to get through the day.
Whatever short-term relief users derive is obliterated by the permanent damage which can result from long-term use. People with anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder—GAD, obsessive-compulsive disorder—OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD and others, often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. But temporary relief cannot be sustained without increasing the amount of substances ingested. Which leads to addiction.
Anxiety disorder and substance abuse
A student who battles addiction and an anxiety disorder concurrently may feel as though he is trapped in a vicious circle. Addiction leads to heightened anxiety. People with heightened anxiety will self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Over time, this pattern becomes habit; the conditions blend into a nightmarish blur.
Social anxiety disorder
Alcohol abuse is a common co-occurring condition with social anxiety disorder. Individuals with this disorder report alcohol reduces anxiety. Unfortunately, alcohol does nothing to correct the underlying conditions which fuel the disorder. Over time, individuals with social anxiety disorder who use alcohol to quell their anxiety may become dependent the substance.
Post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD
Not unlike individuals with social anxiety disorder, people with PTSD often turn to alcohol and drugs to ease their anxiety. But alcohol and drugs can exacerbate PTSD symptoms. As with social anxiety disorder, alcohol and drugs may afford temporary relief but fail to treat the underlying conditions.
PTSD symptoms including sweating and a racing heartbeat. Loud noises can trigger a flashback, as can irregular sleep and vivid dreams of the event. The severity of the trauma coupled with the student’s emotional makeup determines how long PTSD symptoms can last. Onset of PTSD can occur months or years after the triggering event.
Phobias differ from normal nervousness or anxiety. An individual who is phobic experiences fear disproportionate to the event. But intense fear is not phobia; it is one of the symptoms. A fear or anxiety qualifies as a phobia when it disrupts the individual’s life for at least six months. Also, the fear must alter how the individual goes about his life. For example, if he takes a circuitous route home in order to avoid crossing under a bridge. Or his fear of dogs is such he will avoid walking down a street because an aggressive dog is chained up in the front yard.
Phobias can be triggered by traumatic events but typically start in childhood or adolescence. Onset usually occurs from age 11 to 19. According psychcentral.com, phobias affect more than five million people annually in the U.S.
Phobias are grouped into three categories: social phobias, specific phobias and agoraphobia. Note: agoraphobia is generally misunderstood as fear of open places. Agoraphobia is fear of places and situations that might cause panic, helplessness or embarrassment. Symptoms vary from phobia to phobia but all include shortness of breath, intense fear or panic, rapid heartbeat and the instinctual reaction to flee the object or situation.
OCD is the compulsion to engage in repetitive behavior which achieves no significant result. The obsession is the thought; the compulsion is the behavior. Since OCD behaviors are peculiar to the individual, the list can be infinite. Below are some of the more common OCD behaviors:
- Repeated handwashing
- Incessant cleaning
- Fanatical attention to order
- Obsession with counting items
- Checking and rechecking appliances, doors, windows, alarms, etc.
- Brushing one’s hair an exact number of times each time
- Repeating any of these behaviors if it is not executed to perfection
Connection between addiction and anxiety
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recorded almost one in eight of the 95 million visits to hospital emergency departments made by adults nationwide in 2007 were due to a mental health and/or substance abuse problem. The most common reason for these visits was a mood disorder—42.7 percent—followed by anxiety disorders—26.1 percent—alcohol-related problems 22.9 percent—and drug disorders—17.6 percent.
Teens with co-occurring conditions come from all social strata and backgrounds. These young people do share some characteristics, including:
- Learning disabilities
- Disconnected from school
- Social anxiety
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- History or physical or sexual abuse
- Life altering events—divorce, death of a loved one
- Undiagnosed mental illness or substance abuse problem
White River Academy
White River Academy is a residential treatment center which specializes in the application of cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy for substance abuse, behavior disorders or both. These therapies, combined with multiple treatment modalities, a challenging curriculum, outdoor activities and peer-to-peer team building enable boys and teens to develop the skills to become responsible adults. For more information on our academy, our programs and admissions process, call our admissions team at 866-520-0905.