Self-medicating Anxiety with Opioids

The connection between addiction and mental health disorders has long been known. A recent study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health confirms a link between opioid abuse and anxiety disorders. Says its lead author, Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, “Lifetime non-medical prescription opioid use was associated with the incidence of… all anxiety disorders. Non-medical opioid-use disorder… was associated with… any anxiety disorder, as well as with several incident mood disorders and anxiety disorders.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two have a bi-directional relationship, meaning each makes the other worse.

More Opioids Are Prescribed to Those With Anxiety Disorders

It’s no secret that opioid abuse is a rampant problem in the US. In fact, nonmedical use of prescription opioids is so common that it’s second only to marijuana in terms of illegal drug consumption. This is due in large part to the widespread overprescription of opioids, which fuels the problem by flooding our communities with a titanic supply. And it seems that people with anxiety disorders are bearing the brunt of that systemic dysfunction.

A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that people with mood and anxiety disorders are twice as likely to become opioid users (i.e. to fill multiple opioid prescriptions per year). Researchers believe this is due to the overlap between mental illness and chronic pain – though prescribing doctors likely don’t make that connection. Says John Renner, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, “Once patients are given an opioid, they may notice a reduction in pain and an improvement in mood and then may be very resistant to stopping the opioid. Patients may not even be conscious of the improved mood, but they are more likely to try to continue the medication.”

Why Opioids Don’t Work to Treat Our True Pain

For many people struggling with anxiety, the euphoric, carefree feeling opioids provide can seem like a welcome relief from their psychological pain. But that relief is short-lived, and it’s soon replaced by an even greater agony. Over time, opioids change the way our brains work and create deeply entrenched physiological dependence so that when we try to quit, the discomfort is almost too great to bear.

That’s because synthetic opioids mimic the feel-good chemicals naturally produced by our brains. With continued use, your brain learns to depend on this, slows its natural functioning and produces less of the things that make you feel good, like dopamine and new brain cells. When we take substances to mask our pain, we’re not addressing it. So when we stop using, we feel the full effects of our depleted brain chemistry and inability to cope emotionally.

Fully Recover From Opioid Addiction With Holistic, Integrative Treatment

Despite opioid addiction’s pervasiveness in our society, effective solutions do exist. According to researcher Silvia Martins, “Early identification and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders might reduce the risk for self-medication with prescription opioids and the risk of future development of an opioid-use disorder.”

Mood disorders like anxiety are symptoms of underlying biological and emotional causes. In order to fully recover, we need to address both chemical imbalance in our brains and the unprocessed trauma lying at the source of our self-harming behavior. The Sanctuary at Sedona can help you do just that, with an integrative, non-12-Step approach that addresses addiction at its core so you can finally let go of your destructive patterns and truly thrive.

To learn more about opioid dependence and withdrawal, see our article: The Deep Attachment of Psychological Dependence with Prescription Drug Use.

To find out how we can help you safely stop using opioids, call us at (877) 710-3385 or email us at [email protected].