Supporting a Loved One Through Anxiety, Panic, and Addiction

January 21, 2023

Written By: Buena Vista Recovery

Addiction and mental health disorders can often affect people in tandem. Support in the form of friends, family, and loved ones is instrumental at each stage of recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health disorders. However, supporting effectively is a skill that takes practice. Knowing how to properly support someone with anxiety, panic, or addiction requires education and compassion. It is necessary to become educated on the signs and effects of anxiety and panic, how they relate to the use of addictive substances, and how to navigate trying times to provide the most effective support possible. 

The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety, panic, and addiction can be closely tied, with many experiencing cyclic feelings of anxiety that can cause them to turn to substance use. Those challenged with anxiety and panic disorders may attempt to quell these intense feelings by utilizing drugs or alcohol to placate dangerous thoughts, feelings of fear and discomfort, and more. However, addiction can bring these feelings of anxiety itself. Upon ceasing the chronic use of drugs or alcohol, an individual may feel compelled to reengage with drugs or alcohol, further begetting the addiction cycle. 

Supports are tasked with not only being able to identify the signs of anxiety and panic in a loved one but also understanding their effects on the repeated use of these addictive substances. Despite any negative consequences already faced, it is common for those with anxiety disorders to experience feelings of desperation in the face of emotional turmoil. An individual may not be engaging with these substances out of an innate desire or irreverence for others but rather in an attempt to simply feel “normal.” 

Whether an individual is just beginning their sober journey in detox or is living on their own in outpatient care with supportive family and friends, recovery is always difficult. Having support available to enact effective strategies for navigating anxiety and panic throughout the addiction recovery journey is instrumental for maintaining sobriety in the face of stress and other effects of mental health disorders. 

Supporting Through Anxiety and Panic

Anxiety and panic disorders can affect many aspects of a person’s life, from how they may construct their daily routine to the strategies necessary to navigate stress in personal and professional scenarios. Being able to identify the symptoms of anxiety and panic in a loved one is necessary to effectively employ any other practiced support strategies. 

Some of the common signs of anxiety and panic in another include: 

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid, shallow breaths
  • Inability to focus
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty managing motor skills
  • Intense fear
  • Expressing an altered sense of reality
  • Voicing intense fears of impending danger
  • Nausea

Identifying these signs in a loved one is necessary to employ other effective supporting strategies. While many of those working to overcome the effects of anxiety and panic in their lives will be developing their own relapse prevention plans, effective supports can always continue to reinforce these strategies that help loved ones avoid turning to the use of drugs or alcohol to best cope with these intense symptoms.

Developing Effective Coping Strategies

Supporting a loved one through anxiety and panic while keeping focused on a loved one’s sober goals is difficult. However, there are a number of effective practices that support can use to guide loved ones through such tumultuous times.

Practice Breathing Techniques

Even as a support, learning to breathe in the face of stress is paramount. It can be impossible to enact other effective strategies if an individual is not calm and ready to analyze the situation. Likewise, having practiced breathing techniques also serves as an additional service for supporting their loved ones. By being able to regulate and take deep breaths oneself, supports can model this behavior to their loved ones, providing a breathing rhythm for a loved one to focus on and match.

Move Calm and Slow

Those experiencing such heightened levels of anxiety and panic can react in unforeseen ways depending on the stimulus. Moving slowly, approaching in a loved one’s field of view, and making gentle motions are all necessary to avoid any misconceptions or misinterpretations of otherwise supportive actions. 

Help Resituate Reality

Anxiety and panic can cause an individual to perceive their environments in more dangerous lights. By helping a loved one resituate in reality, it is possible to effectively challenge these effects of anxiety and panic and prevent the use of drugs or alcohol. Prompting a loved one to name things in their environment or to look at a particular object and focus on it while discussing it can all be ways to ground a loved one in reality while providing direction for an otherwise frantic or desperate mind. 

Ask Simple Questions

A loved one may not always be able to vocalize their needs in the face of intense anxiety and panic. Rather than asking complex or open-ended questions about the situation, effective supports can instead ask simple or guiding questions that can be answered in only a few words, with “yes or no” questions being exceptionally helpful. 

While questions like “How can I help?” are supportive, they can do little to guide the situation. Rather, asking questions like “Do you want to leave this place?” or focused questions on their senses like “In your words, what do you see?” can be easier to process in the face of anxiety and panic. Learning how to be supportive and prevent compulsive engagement with substances – that would otherwise compromise a loved one’s hard-earned sobriety – can make an incredible difference in a loved one’s ability to sustain lasting recovery.

Supporting a loved one in overcoming anxiety, panic, and addiction is a noble effort. However, it also takes practice and dedication. We at Buena Vista Recovery understand the difficult journey that addiction and mental health disorders can present to entire families. From medical detox to effective residential treatment, we are prepared to customize your recovery journey while working with families to embrace the most effective supportive skills possible. All of our programs are equipped with proven therapeutic approaches and communities of peers and professionals. We champion the opportunity to work with you and your loved ones to create a wholly transformed lifestyle in sobriety. To learn more about how we can help you today, call (480) 741-9414.