If you’re a tweaker, you probably have a pretty damn good idea what substance-induced anxiety feels like. Anxiety and addiction are as closely related as depression and addiction.
One usually follows or causes the other. Many of us use to self medicate and get rid of the anxiety, and the addiction follows.
For many more, anxiety is the result of using way too much, and while it often depends on the type of drug you’re using, it doesn’t always.
Coke is definitely an anxiety inducer though.
I once watched a guy shoot up coke in my girlfriend’s parent’s basement. Within seconds, he was hearing things. He kept asking if we were alone. I assured him over and over that we were.
I always wondered what would happen if I had messed with the guy and told him the cops were outside. His anxiety was so bad I think his heart might have exploded.
I used to get so anxious while smoking weed in a car (which was the only place I felt was safe to smoke) that I would throw my pipe out the window. My friends started to yell at me for all the pipes I would toss because I was convinced I was being followed.
Maybe I was.
I think we need to make some distinctions here. There’s a big difference between different types of anxieties.
Social anxiety is pretty self-explanatory. So is substance-induced anxiety—either you get bad anxiety while you’re using, or you get bad anxiety while withdrawing, or you get both.
But what a lot of people don’t talk about is how a long drug and drinking career can lead to anxiety just becoming a thing in your life, something that doesn’t go away.
A permanent change.
I Can’t Breathe
When the anxiety comes, I feel like I can’t breathe. I feel like there’s not enough air in the world. I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack if I don’t lie down.
I never used to get anxiety. Not even when I was a kid.
When I started smoking weed, I definitely found it to be a depressant, but I didn’t feel like I needed to get rid of any anxiety. There wasn’t anything to get rid of. It chilled me out, but mostly it helped with my depression.
Over time, something shifted. The anxiety started to come hard when I smoked. Weed became a stimulant. I never understood why, but it doesn’t really matter much now does it?
All stimulants have that effect on me. For a long time, I had to temper them with a downer—usually an opiate and a benzo together. I didn’t like the way they made me feel, but I kept doing them anyway. That’s what we do, right?
But something strange happened when I got sober. I started to care. When I was using, I didn’t care a whole lot about the disasters in my life, and when I did, I was so filled with depression already that they were just one more problem to add to the pile.
There was no anxiety. There was just despair. There was nothing to worry about because my worst fears came true constantly.
When I got on anti-depressants and the depression went away, anxiety started to creep into my life.
This is not a textbook definition of substance-induced anxiety. This is a permanent change to my brain. It never went away. And the better my life got, the worse the anxiety got.
I finally had stuff to lose.
Even now, even with years of sobriety and non-narcotic anti-anxiety medication, I still get anxiety.
It’s a fear I can’t place. It’s worse when I can. It’s breathe stolen from lungs that refuse to work. It’s a cap on my air.
If you’re sober and the anxiety won’t go away, if you’ve put together clean time and you still can’t take a full breath, if you’re being told that the substances couldn’t possibly be causing this, then I’m telling you that it’s happened to me too.
Anxiety and addiction go together, but in my experience, so can anxiety and sobriety.
Even now it’s still there, and it never was before. Even in high school before I was using, there was nothing like this, nothing like my body betraying me, turning me into a gibbering mess because something dark and nameless is lurking at the edges of reality.
You’re. Not. Alone.
Getting Sober Was not an Anxiety Cure
Nothing drives me crazier than to hear people claim that working the steps or getting sober is going to cure every mental illness you have.
I think the problem is that so many people, especially tweakers, have such horrible anxiety and fear when they’re using and when they’re detoxing that, when it goes away, they believe sobriety will do this for everyone.
For me, it was the opposite. I now live with anxiety every day. It doesn’t go away with medication—it just gets dulled.
None of this stuff ever really goes away in my experience. Addiction is waiting for me to fuck up and stop going to meetings. Depression is waiting for me to call myself cured and quit the meds.
However, I readily admit that this stuff can be caused by drug use, that it can go away if that’s the case.
Just not for me.
Today, I have to focus on how to deal with this in a healthy way. One way is to get the things I’m anxious about taken care of.
I need to do my work.
I need to take care of chores.
I need to go to meetings.
I need to take my pills on time.
All those things that are required for me to live a successful and happy life need to be done, and they need to be done in a timely manner.
When I do that, I’m fighting the anxiety and the fear. I won’t win, but I’ll beat it back for a day or two, and today, that’s good enough.