It’s not unusual for me to reflect upon my experience as an addict now that I’m in recovery. Most of the time I think about how I can help other addicts in ways I wished someone had helped me during some of the darkest days of my life.
It wasn’t until I relapsed for the fourth, fifth, and sixth time that I knew there was a problem, yet nobody seemed to know what it was. I was attending my Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I was checking in with my sponsor regularly. I avoided my triggers – the people and places that would tempt me to abuse drugs and alcohol again. But somehow, someway, I found myself back in rehab.
This time, it was a dual diagnosis treatment center. I had co-occurring disorders – mental health and substance abuse – that took me years to figure out that I was suffering from. This requires complex and proper treatment.
An estimated 8.9 million adults in the U.S. suffer from substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health problem
An estimated 8.9 million adults in the U.S. suffer from substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health problem, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Of them, only 7.4 percent of these dual diagnosis sufferers receive professional treatment for both of their conditions. More than half receive no treatment at all as their mental health problems become barrier to seeking treatment.
Identifying the Source of My Anxiety
Being able to identify the symptoms of my anxiety and finally connect them to my reasons for relapsing has changed everything.
- Fuzzy thinking – I was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid. Adderall and other amphetamines helped me focus, but increased my level of anxiety. I was unable to concentrate or focus, which is vital in order to be able to function. To think clearly means I can make decisions and solve problems.
- Fear of social environments – This made rehabilitation a challenge for me. Peer counseling and group therapy sessions were near impossible to for me to attend. I would isolate myself as much as I could.
- Difficulty sleeping – I struggled to fall asleep because my mind was always racing. I was overstimulated and a drug, such as Adderall, further increased that stimulation, increasing my anxiety.
Battling My Anxiety
I battled with anxiety on a daily basis, unaware that I was affected by it, and used drugs and alcohol to combat it. Smoking marijuana helped decrease my heart rate. I felt like I was sleeping better. In my mind, I found the perfect solution. It seemed to be working at first, but then I realized I couldn’t sleep without it.
I battled with anxiety on a daily basis
Just before my last visit to rehab, I had started to fear everything and everyone. My anxiety was affecting the way I thought. I was extremely paranoid that everyone I knew was out to get to me, that people do not accept who I am and that I was going to be a failure in life. What caused the most anxiety for me was my fear that I would run out of drugs.
That one day finally came, it was a cold October night. It was the end of my speed bender. I had a handful of Adderall left and took them all. I didn’t have any Xanax or marijuana to calm me down and soon enough I ended up in the hospital. My heart rate was extremely high, I had the worst cold sweats I’ve ever experienced and I felt as if I was dying.
I’ve had panic attacks before but nothing came close to this one. I learned later that I was experiencing psychosis. I had a false sense of reality and was scared out of mind. The doctors at the hospital explained the way we are affected by anxiety and something clicked for me. I was dealing with more than just an addiction.
Taking Control of My Anxiety
I have never experienced such emotional pain like this in my life
I knew it was time to get help. After my brief stay in the hospital, I was broken both spiritually and physically. I realized then that something needed to change. My anxiety and drug use were killing me. I have never experienced such emotional pain like this in my life and I was only 19 years old at the time.
I had been to treatment before, but not for dual-diagnosis. Following a discussion with me, and my doctor, my parents searched thoroughly for a rehabilitation center that specializes in both treating addictions and other underlying mental illnesses. Not long into my program I knew things would get better now that I had access to the right kind of treatment.
Ways to Cope
I slowly learned the tools I needed to cope with both my addiction and my anxiety with help from experienced medical professionals. These are habits, suggested by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, that I still practice today.
- Taking a time out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly. Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
- For more tips on how to live in sober in your twenties click here
The number one thing I learned while in drug rehab was that I wasn’t alone. All my life I thought I was “unique” and that no one else struggled like I did. It turns out, thousands of people are like me. I am six years clean. I haven’t had a panic attack since and I have found many drug-free ways to work through my anxiety.
Ben Emerling is a content writer who works in the Metro Detroit area. Creative writer by day and avid sports enthusiast by night. He dedicates his life to helping people achieve sobriety. Ben previously interned for 12Up and currently works for Elite Rehab Placement. Check him out, and his work, on Facebook.
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