One of the reasons why people can become dependent on alcohol is that they are using this chemical as a means to control feelings of anxiety. This is referred to as self-medicating. Initially, drinking can make the person feel less anxious, but this temporary reprieve comes with a heavy cost.
Once individuals begin abusing alcohol, they need to keep on drinking more and more to get the same effect. This is referred to as developing tolerance. The increased drinking means that the individual begins to experience some serious negative consequences; these consequences then become a source of further anxiety. It leads to a vicious cycle where the person feels the need to keep drinking more in order to deal with the anxiety created by his or her drinking.
By getting sober, the individual is removing a major source of anxiety from his or her life. The danger lies in the fact that unless such people have developed new effective coping strategies for dealing with anxiety, they are back to where they started. Unless the person is able to bring this source of suffering under control, he or she would be at high risk of relapse of turning to new maladaptive behaviours.
The Danger of Not Dealing with Anxiety in Recovery
Anxiety in recovery can mean that the individual feels overcome with dread and worry. The person may become so overwhelmed by these negative feelings that it makes it impossible for them to get the most out of this new life. If the anxiety goes untreated, the individual can become desperate for any means of escape. It is at this time that there can be a strong urge to return to alcohol because the person can remember how it used to make them feel better.
If anxiety problems are ignored, these are likely to just keep causing problems. Even if the person manages to remain sober, he or she will not be able to get the most from this new life. Recovery is not about getting back to where one was before starting to drink – it needs to be about creating a much better way of living.
How to Deal with Anxiety in Recovery
Those individuals dealing with an actual anxiety disorder may need professional help in order to overcome it. Treatment requires taking medications or spending time with a therapist. There are many effective options available; it is usually just a case of finding the one that would work best for the person in question.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with general anxiety is to become more objective about the patterns of thinking that is generating this suffering. For example, people will often become anxious about things they fear are going to happen in the future. The reality is, though, that it is highly unlikely that the person can accurately predict the future, therefore this type of thinking is just catastrophising. One way to be more objective here is to remember all the periods of worry in the past that were over events that never happened. In order to overcome anxiety, it is vital that individuals are able to pay attention to their thinking and challenge any illogical thinking (for example, predicting the future or trying to read the minds of others).
Meditation can be a powerful tool for helping overcome anxiety problems – especially mindfulness and loving-kindness (metta meditation). Mindfulness makes it easier for the person to become more objective about his or her thinking patterns, and metta meditation increases the individual’s ability to self-soothe. It also means the person becomes comfortable in life in a more general sense.