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Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse

Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse: Better Treatment Options

A psychologist in Minnesota, Matt G. Kushner, Ph.D., has been recognized for his work in treating people who suffer from alcoholism co-occurring with an anxiety disorder. He studied individuals engaged in treatment at residential alcohol abuse facilities and identified three common behavioral disorders associated with alcohol abuse or addiction.

While almost half of all addicts have some kind of co-occurring behavioral disorder, Dr. Kushner concentrated on three specific debilitating illnesses. Someone affected by a generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, or panic disorder may be four times more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, probably the most common of these three disorders, preoccupies its victim with continuous worry about upcoming events or daily problems. Someone who experiences this emotional disorder will fret to the point that he cannot sleep and has no appetite. He worries all night about whether he will make it to the bank on time or if he will order the right amount of office supplies.

Social Phobia occurs when a person reacts strongly to his fears that others will judge him and find him failing. Of course, everybody experiences that kind of fear from time to time, but those suffering from this phobia worry about how they will handle things days or even weeks before they occur.  People fear performing common tasks and activities in front of others, such as interacting with grocery store clerks or eating in restaurants.

Panic Disorder strikes with no warning and rips away a person’s confidence that he can maintain control of himself. During the course of routine activities he will suddenly become incapacitated by the idea that he is going to collapse or have a heart attack. He becomes immobilized, unable to complete whatever activity he was involved in. This feeling of panic can last a few minutes, or true panic attacks can last much longer.

Dr. Kushner’s work reviewed the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) versus progressive muscle relaxation training (PMRT) in breaking the connection between anxiety and alcoholism. Both treatment modalities are widely and successfully used in many residential alcohol abuse facilities, but Dr. Kushner’s work demonstrated CBT to be the more effective option for patients suffering from these specific symptoms.

PMRT training helps the patient to recognize that stress has built up and take a brief time out from daily activities to tense up the muscles and then concentrate on relaxing them. The process usually involves deep breathing exercises throughout.

Cognitive behavior therapy specifically works to change the way a person reacts to situations in order to break the connection between becoming anxious and taking a drink. The patient is encouraged to consider the causes for his anxiety and determine if his worries are valid. He also learns ways to interrupt negative thinking. For example, if he goes to work every day convinced his boss dislikes him, then he learns to stop and think about the positive work that he’s done recently or positive exchanges that he’s had with his boss.

While both techniques are useful in treating people suffering from anxiety with or without addiction, Dr. Kushner’s study revealed greater success for those in alcohol treatment, suffering from anxiety, if they focused on CBT. After four months of CBT, patients achieved better success in avoiding alcohol when they were anxious and they had fewer drinking days per month.

So what can you do if you’re suffering from anxiety and drinking too much? Call your local alcohol treatment center to learn more about outpatient and residential treatment options. A licensed, certified substance abuse counselor will know how to put together a treatment regimen to fit your specific needs. You really can make your life better, but you’ve got to make the first phone call.

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