We all experience anxiety and fear at some point in our lives; it is a natural human response to danger or imminent threats to ourselves or another individual. This fear can be powerful and occur, even if the threat is only an imagined one. Fear can also present itself in anticipation of a harmful event occurring.
These emotions are natural and have an essential value. They have evolved as a critical mechanism of self-protection.
But, when individuals experience these feelings persistently and unrelentingly, they can have the opposite effect on individuals.
Some of the signs of generalized anxiety disorder include the following:
- Fear and anxiety that lasts over four months in children and six months in adults
- Tension or restlessness
- Becoming easily tired
- Chronic fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sudden and frequent mental “blankness”
- Physical tension
- Sleep issues, an inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or unsatisfying sleep
Some of the effects of this disorder include:
- Fear of social situations, especially if they involve personal scrutiny
- Fear of acting in a way that will be humiliating, embarrassing, or lead to rejection
- Intense fear and anxiety before and during social situations
- Persistent avoidance of social situations
People who have phobias may experience:
- Fear of specific objects
- Fear or anxiety that exceeds what is warranted
- Persistent, active avoidance of particular objects
A person who has panic disorder experiences recurrent panic attacks. During a panic attack, the following may occur:
- Sweating, shaking, and trembling
- Palpitations or a fast heart rate
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest pain
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feelings of detachment
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dying
Individuals who suffer from severe anxiety may use prescription medication to address their anxious feelings and challenges. While this can be helpful for many people, some individuals may grow dependent on their medications and gradually increase their intake to help them manage their symptoms, even if it’s unsafe to do so. In other cases, people may self-medicate by using alcohol or illicit and habit-forming drugs.
Using prescription drugs, illicit substances, or alcohol to manage or treat anxiety disorders can be dangerous and lead to the development of a substance use disorder. In such instances, people develop co-occurring disorders, involving addiction and anxiety.
Not only do drugs and alcohol have their own adverse symptoms in the short term that must be dealt with, but also they invite long-term health problems, including dependency and addiction. The combination of anxiousness, dependency, and addiction often creates a vicious cycle where the drugs you take can increase your anxiety symptoms. You require more and more drugs to manage your now more severe mental health problems. The result is almost always serious medical problems, the risk of overdose, and accidental death.
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Dave Cundiff, MD, MPH is an experienced leader in the field of Substance Use Disorder treatment. He works with patients suffering from Substance Use Disorder to evaluate their medication needs and prescribe treatments accordingly. In addition, he regularly participates in all-staff debriefing sessions involving peers, nurses, and other prescribers. He also reviews and advises on policies, procedures, and techniques for treating substance use disorder.