Addiction is often driven in part by fear—fear of facing pain or trauma, for instance—and fear can also be a barrier to sobriety. When you are afraid, you can’t be as intentional; the feeling is overwhelming, and you want to do anything to get out of it.
Addiction, Fear, and Anxiety
The prelimbic cortex drives both expression of fear and drug-seeking behavior, indicating that these mechanisms are connected in our brain. The amygdala—a part of the brain involved in conditioned fear and the flight-or-flight-response—also plays a role in addiction.
Anxiety and addiction frequently co-occur. People with anxiety are three times more likely to have alcohol use disorder, and those with mood or anxiety disorders are three times more likely to abuse opioids.
Substances only end up exacerbating the anxiety, but it can feel like they’re helping because they temporarily ease some symptoms. This is how people start self-medicating. Along with changes in the brain, this makes it difficult to quit.
Afraid of Quitting Drinking or Using
Plus, there are many common fears about getting sober. Some people worry they’ll lose friends who don’t understand, or with whom they used substances. They might be afraid of being branded an “alcoholic” or “addict” and treated differently in their personal or professional life. Some worry they won’t ever be able to have fun again. Others fear facing their emotional pain.
The thing about fear is that it gets stronger the more you avoid it. Life will go on after you enter recovery, and yes, you will have to face challenges or big life changes head-on. This is understandably terrifying when you haven’t done it. But once you do it, you feel more and more empowered. That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, but temporarily delaying the inevitable through substance use only ends up making things harder.
I’ve noticed that the more time I’ve spent in recovery, the less power my anxiety has over me. It’s still there, but I don’t have the added alarm about being unable to cope with challenges. I know that I will get through whatever happens. While I carried the fear of getting sober with me through nearly a decade, recovery ended up being the thing that made me feel most fearless.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a great life in recovery. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.