Did you know that 19.1% of adults had an anxiety disorder last year in the U.S alone? The covid-19 pandemic made us face stressful situations that impacted our mental health, such as isolation, grief, unemployment, fear, and insomnia. It’s no wonder that anxiety rates have spiked.
In some cases, doctors prescribe medication to ease symptoms in patients. However, anxiety meds work similar to other addictive drugs, and without regular supervision, it can be tough to come off them after long-term use. Here’s what you should know about developing an addiction to anxiety meds and what you can do about it.
But First, What is Anxiety?
We can describe anxiety as a disorder that provokes an excessive sensation of fear and triggers an unpleasant emotional and physical response. Anxiety disorder can be terrifying at times, causing panic attacks that feel just like heart attacks. Living with anxiety is crippling and can impact a person’s life.
Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, depending on the person. Most common symptoms include a racing heart, loss of breath, tightness of the chest, chills, sweating, and heavy feelings of fear and loss of control.
Types of Anxiety Medication
Benzodiazepines are pharmaceutical drugs used to treat a wide variety of mental disorders, including anxiety. They can help moderate anxiety symptoms and control panic attacks.
Doctors have also prescribed them to control epileptic seizures and ease withdrawal symptoms. The most common types of anxiety meds include:
- Oxazepam Serax
These types of anxiety meds can be good for people dealing with anxiety. It can help relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. But, just like any other medication, it comes with its risks and can be addictive if not careful.
Symptoms of Addiction
Long-term use of anxiety meds can provoke changes within the brain’s structure, leading to a higher tolerance to the drug. And this makes the patient develop an addiction to the medication. Symptoms of addiction include:
- Taking more than prescribed
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t take them
- Not being able to control how much to take
- Feeling as if you need to take them in order to feel normal
- Trying to obtain other meds through our methods
An addict isn’t aware of their addiction. And if you think you or a loved one is developing an addiction to meds for anxiety, it’s time to seek professional help.
Withdrawal vs. Relapse
The troubling thing about quitting over-the-counter anxiety meds or prescribed ones is that withdrawal symptoms can feel as if the anxiety is coming back. And if you quit your meds cold turkey, the chances of relapsing increase.
It’s crucial that you learn to identify the differences between discontinuation symptoms and relapse. For instance, detox symptoms kick in shortly after quitting meds, whereas a relapse takes longer to occur.
Another difference between the two is that physical symptoms don’t accompany anxiety or depression the way withdrawal symptoms do. For example, physical symptoms provoked by discontinuation include dizziness, flu-like symptoms, and nausea. Withdrawal symptoms usually subside after 2-3 weeks, but it depends on each person.
Ways to Cope with Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are difficult to cope with. Most people relapse whenever they start experiencing them in order to avoid the pain and discomfort. The following suggestions can aid with discontinuation symptoms.
If you have not been working out as much as you’d desire to, it’s time to get started. It won’t be easy to find the motivation to exercise once you quit your anxiety meds, especially if symptoms start kicking in again. But, training regularly will make you feel better and will make the whole process easier.
Set realistic expectations and start slowly. This will help you stay motivated and remain consistent. Be reasonable with yourself, and don’t expect to be a gym rat only after a week of exercising. As you advance, increase the intensity of your training sessions little by little.
Follow Up with Your Healthcare Professional
After quitting your anxiety meds, it’s important you book follow-up appointments with your doctor. They’re able to evaluate both your mental and physical health and help your withdrawal symptoms go away for good.
Follow-up appointments are most important right at the beginning of the process. The early stages of discontinuation are the toughest ones, so make sure you stick with your appointments.
Don’t Quit All of a Sudden
No matter how tempted you are to stop taking your meds altogether, don’t do it. Quitting cold turkey can be dangerous for your mental and physical health.
Instead, the wisest thing to do is to gradually come off your meds, taking a smaller dosage each time. How to taper off your meds depends on how long you’ve been taking them. In this case, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional first before discontinuing.
Rely on Your Support System
Your support system is what will help you keep going and stick to your decision to discontinue, especially in your weakest moments. You’ll need to rely on a trustworthy friend to remind you why you decided to take this decision in the first place—someone who will be able to cheer you on and celebrate your strenuous efforts and achievements.
Quit Your Anxiety Meds
It’s not easy to admit that you or a loved one has developed an addiction to anxiety meds. But the first step in improving is being honest with yourself. There’s nothing to be ashamed of—the important thing is to be aware of your current issue and search for help as soon as possible.
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