The Cure for Anxiety and Loneliness in Addiction

The Cure for Anxiety and Loneliness in Addiction


What I can share with you is what has worked for me in my own recovery journey. I have dealt with anxiety and I have also dealt with loneliness, to varying degrees, at different times in my recovery journey.

When I was stuck in denial during my addiction I did not really have any faith that I could ever learn to live a sober life because of my anxiety.

Now I say that I had “real anxiety” but honestly it was never really diagnosed as such. And the reality was that every time that I backed off on the alcohol, I started to go through withdrawal because I was physically dependent on it. It turns out that one of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal–a very common symptom in fact–is that of anxiety.

So when I say that “I had anxiety” what I really mean is that I felt as if I had a massive amount of anxiety in my life, and the reality was that it was nothing but a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. The truth is that after I went through the detox process (less than a week for acute detoxification) I really had no more anxiety. Was I comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people, such as at an AA meeting? Not really, but even that I could muddle through with a bit of courage. So to say that I had real anxiety was probably not true.

That said, a lot of people who are trying to sober up are dealing with the same issue–they have that feeling of anxiety that accompanies alcohol withdrawal and they want to know how to move past it and get on with their life. My suggestion for this would be to go to treatment, follow up with their aftercare suggestions, and dive into a program of recovery with as much earnestness and seriousness that you have ever attacked anything before in your life. Ever.

Seriously, if you are ever going to really try at something, if you are ever going to put your “all” into something and make a supreme effort, this would be the time to do it. Recovering from alcohol or drug addiction is a monumental task, and it really requires that you dedicate your entire life to the project. Do not hold back.

That said, if you actually do go to rehab and you follow through with their suggestions then that should be very helpful in terms of conquering your fears and anxieties, or at least it will get you headed in the right direction. One of the things that is typically recommended for aftercare is IOP groups or AA meetings, both of which would have you in a social setting on a consistent basis. If you can force yourself to interact with others in recovery on a consistent basis then that will go a long way in fixing both loneliness as well as your anxiety.

If you run away from your fears then they just sit out there and haunt you and create more anxiety. If you face them then you expose them for the fears that they are, revealing to yourself just how powerless those fears are to hurt you. A big part of your recovery is in finding out what those fears and anxieties really are and then summoning the strength and support to be able to confront those fears. If you face them directly then they cannot hurt you or cause future anxiety.

For example, when I first got clean and sober I was very nervous about going to AA meetings, being in AA meetings, and speaking in AA meetings. But I was so miserable and I was so desperate for change that I decided to go anyway and see what happened. So I went to hundreds of AA and NA meetings over the first 18 months of my recovery journey, and at one point I was attending up to 4 meetings in a single day, including a midnight meeting and also a small meeting in a rehab that I was chairing myself. In order to get to this point I had to start out very slowly, going to one tentative meeting per day and being pretty nervous through the whole thing. It was only by taking those baby steps in early recovery, going to one awkward meeting at a time, that I eventually arrived at a point in which I was voluntarily going to multiple meetings every single day.

Later on I found other avenues of recovery and other ways to connect with people in recovery, so I pretty much stopped going to meetings. But I did not stop based on fear or being shy or lack of assertion. Instead, I found new ways to connect and I even took on a career that involved quite a bit of speaking and required me to be even more assertive. So I guess you could say that I grew through my anxiety, I faced my fears and I eventually emerged stronger as a result of this.

I credit this transformation with going to inpatient treatment and then following the advice that I was given there for an aftercare plan. They told me to go to meetings, to get a sponsor, to work the steps, and I did all of those things. My life got better and better and I met a huge circle of supportive friends in recovery. Looking back now, I realize that I never had to be lonely again after I got into treatment. There was always support there for me, every step of the way, even if I felt alone at the time. Recovery from addiction brings an incredible support network along with it–and it is up to each of us to tap into that support and take full advantage of it. Refusal to do so is just another form of denial. I can say that because I had what was almost paralyzing anxiety at first but I was able to “baby step” my way into a very supportive recovery environment.

Now another thing I want to mention in terms of anxiety is this: Physical fitness has been a lifesaver for me specifically, and I would urge you to investigate this is a solution for yourself as well. Check with your physician first of course, but if you are able to exercise then I would strongly point to this as a huge priority in terms of conquering your anxiety, and to some extent, any loneliness as well. If you can move your body and get whipped into shape on a consistent basis then it will motivate you and open up your world to all sorts of new and positive connections. I am not just talking about getting a walking partner or playing tennis every week with a buddy (although that could be helpful), I am talking about getting a huge endorphin boost of chemicals in your brain every day by being in shape and moving your body in a healthy way. If you are serious about fitness and you have the discipline to truly get into good shape then I believe this will do wonders for your overall life in recovery.

In other words, fitness “freaks” have a reason that they are hooked on exercise, and you could get that same level of benefit and emotional boost from working out if you are willing to put in the required effort. Again, check with your doc first but if you get the green light on this then you are only doing yourself a disservice if you do not follow through and get into shape. Good luck!