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Racing heart. Sweaty palms. Struggling to focus. Feeling on edge and nervous. Believing there is something wrong or something will soon go wrong—even when things are okay. If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may be one of the 264 million people worldwide who have an anxiety disorder.
These are just some of the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as an emotional state characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes. For women today, these symptoms of anxiety are all too familiar.
Women are experiencing anxiety more and more today. As women strive to juggle work, kids, relationships, health, and any semblance of a social life, anxiety disorders in women are increasing exponentially. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), women are twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder.
Often, both men and women who experience anxiety disorders also have a substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or having a dual diagnosis. The definition of a co-occurring disorder is the coexistence of both a mental health and substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
According to an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, individuals with mental health issues such as anxiety disorder tend to use alcohol or substances as a form of medication. These substances seem to provide ‘relief’ from the difficult and uncomfortable symptoms of mental health disorders. And while initially, they may seem to work, most times both of the co-occurring disorders worsen.
If you think you may have a co-occurring AUD or SUD and a mental health issue it’s important to realize you are not alone. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 7.7 million American adults have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. This equates to nearly 38% of people with SUDs.
Comorbidity, a term used interchangeably with co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis, also suggests that interactions between the two disorders have the potential to worsen both. And, unfortunately, this is oftentimes the case. This is true with anxiety disorders as well.
For those millions of Americans with co-occurring disorders, the sooner help is sought the better it is for both disorders. And seeking help at a treatment center that has experience and expertise in treating co-occurring disorders is crucial. At Caron, our clinical staff provides integrated behavioral health treatment. We understand that treating co-occurring disorders, including substance abuse and anxiety disorders, is an essential component in a patient's long term sobriety and success.
It’s often difficult to determine which disorder manifested first; the addiction or the mental health disorder. Both can also have similar symptoms as well as causes.
Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder in Women
Anxiety disorders are real medical conditions. Just like asthma and high blood pressure are physical medical conditions that respond well to treatment; anxiety disorders are also serious medical conditions that can be treated and controlled. If you think you have any of these symptoms of anxiety in women, there is hope to overcome these distressing symptoms which often compromise the quality of daily life.
Since anxiety impacts more women than men, it’s vital to know the symptoms of anxiety disorders in women. Women and anxiety symptoms are not the same for each person. Some women may experience a certain group of symptoms while another woman has entirely different symptoms. However, most of the time anxiety issues in women are manifested in some of the following signs:
- Stomach problems such as ongoing nausea, inability to eat much, and stomach pain
- Heart rate increases especially during stressful or triggering situations or events
- Feelings of tiredness, lethargy, or weakness
- Concentration and focus difficulties
- Sense of impending danger, doom, or panic
- Irritability, nervousness, or edginess
- Insomnia and other sleeping issues
- Trouble with rapid breathing, sweating, and shaking
These are all signs of anxiety in women, however, it’s important to note that these can also be symptoms of substance use disorders. Anxiety is a normal response to stressful or dangerous situations. However, the problem occurs when these ‘responses’ interfere with daily life and happen when there is no real threat or reason. When these symptoms of anxiety disorders are repetitive and in response to normal daily activities and events an anxiety disorder evaluation should be sought.
If you, or a loved one, has been exhibiting these symptoms and are also using alcohol or another substance to help ‘ease’ them, it’s important to seek an evaluation at a treatment center, like Caron, with the capabilities to treat both co-occurring disorders.
Understanding Anxiety and Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several types of anxiety disorders that impact both women and men across the globe, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Characterized by excessive worrying about day to day issues such as work, health, and family. Women with GAD may find themselves jumping to worst-case scenarios, experiencing muscle tension, and having sleep issues as well as stomach problems. Women diagnosed with GAD also tend towards depression and often have a family history of depression.
This anxiety disorder causes the sufferer to feel like they are losing control, a sense of doom, or intense fear when there is no real danger at hand. Some of these anxiety issues in women are described as the feeling that they are having a heart attack, dying, or going crazy.
Intense fears or strong aversions to certain situations or objects characterize phobia disorders. The fears are out of proportion to the circumstance or thing feared. These can be social phobias or specific phobias.
There are also a few conditions often associated with anxiety disorders:
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This disorder generally starts after a scary or harmful event occurs to the person themselves, to a loved one, or being a witness to a violent or disturbing event.
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People with this disorder experience repetitive thoughts and behaviors that cause anxiety. Tasks or routines are often performed over and over in an effort to control the anxiety caused by the thoughts.
Each of these disorders is characterized as mild, moderate, or severe. These ‘levels’ of anxiety disorders are generally determined by number and type of symptoms as well as with what frequency these symptoms occur.
The type of anxiety disorder as well as the severity of the disorder help to determine the most appropriate and effective treatment options. It’s important to know that whether an individual has just one or two symptoms sporadically or almost all of these symptoms on a daily basis there are a number of types of treatment options that work to help to control and even overcome anxiety disorders.
Treatment Options for Anxiety Issues in Women
If you are experiencing any of these signs of anxiety in women, it’s crucial to remember you are not alone—there is help. According to the NIMH, nearly 32% of adults in the United States will experience anxiety at some point in their lives.
Many times when an individual or a woman with high anxiety symptoms is struggling to cope and feel better, they begin to self-medicate. Reaching for the occasional glass of wine to calm the nerves is not out of the ordinary, however, for those with anxiety disorders, this occasional glass of wine or use of another substance can become a habit. Not only do these habits often become full-blown alcohol and substance use disorders, the use of these substances often leads to an increase in the symptoms of anxiety in women and men.
It’s vital if a co-occurring mental health issue, like an anxiety disorder, and substance or alcohol use issue is suspected that both are treated. Caron is experienced in effectively evaluating individuals for these issues and creating individualized treatment plans for numerous co-occurring disorders, like substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
Whether treatment is needed for co-occurring disorders or only an anxiety disorder many of the approaches to treatment will be similar.
Generally, most anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of counseling and medications. However, if a woman is pregnant, the course of medications may be altered. This is also true if there is a comorbid diagnosis of an alcohol or substance use issue. In these cases, if medications are needed, psychiatrists are cautious as to what they prescribe as these individuals may be more susceptible to becoming dependent on certain medications.
Medications treat the symptoms of anxiety in women and men but do not ‘cure’ anxiety disorders. For that reason, counseling such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), support groups, and learning stress management techniques are essential.
There are numerous healthy stress management and coping skills that an individual can learn. Practices such as mediation, yoga, exercise, journaling, practicing mindfulness, and more are excellent strategies for relieving anxiety. For anyone suffering from anxiety, acquiring these skills may seem insurmountable now, but once you get the treatment you need and your symptoms of anxiety under control, these approaches can change your life.
The best course of treatment will vary a bit depending on a few factors. Not only is the type and severity of the anxiety disorder essential to determine so too are the causes of anxiety in women and men.
Again, it’s important to take an honest look at your own situation and determine if you may have a co-occurring SUD or AUD as well. If you suspect you do, the right treatment center will be able to help you overcome both and live a happy, anxiety-free, and substance-free life.
Understanding the Causes of Anxiety in Women
Research shows that there can be both genetic and environmental causes for both anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. However, for each type of anxiety disorder and for each person with an anxiety disorder the exact causes, timelines, and ways it manifested can vary.
There are some general risk factors and causes for anxiety. Here are a few:
- Experiencing traumatic, stressful, or negative events in childhood or as an adult
- Family history of anxiety or depression (or another mental illness)
- Physical conditions such as thyroid issues, hormonal changes, or use of drugs or other medications.
When it comes to women and anxiety, it’s important to note the role hormone fluctuations can play. Women’s hormones and anxiety symptoms have been linked in various studies. From hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle to postpartum hormone shifts, if you are a woman experiencing anxiety symptoms it’s crucial to get a physical evaluation to determine if hormonal changes can be contributing to or causing this.
It’s also imperative to determine if you are self-medicating for anxiety symptoms. Alcohol, prescribed medications, and even illicit drugs are often used to combat the sometimes disabling symptoms of an anxiety disorder. If you think you may have a co-occurring alcohol or substance use issue, seek help at a reputable addiction treatment center with an understanding of and focus on treating comorbidities such as addiction and anxiety. Caron Treatment Centers has more than 60 years of experience and success in treating co-occurring disorders. Their highly experienced clinical staff knows how vital it is to treat any underlying and co-occurring conditions to ensure long-term sobriety.
If you relate to these symptoms of anxiety or a co-occurring disorder, remember you’re not alone and there is help available. Take the first step today and enjoy a life free of anxiety. Caron is here for you with innovative addiction treatment and uncompromising care.