Self-Medicating Anxiety: Prescription Painkiller Abuse

by AddictionCenter |

The “Prescription” for Anxiety

Anyone who suffers from an anxiety disorder is all too familiar with this question from well-meaning friends and loved ones:

Why can’t you just relax and stop obsessing?

For people with anxiety, it’s hard to explain to others how an emotion can cripple an otherwise successful person. Even more than that, it’s hard to believe that an emotion or feeling can drive us to do self-destructive things.

Everything else in your life fades away, your eyes glaze over and your mind is consumed with fear, frustration and uneasiness.

- Chris's wife, describing what he's like when she sees anxiety strike him

Prescription drugs are insidious primarily because they come with the proven caveat that they are medication. When I was in my addiction, I leaned on the fact that what I was doing was doctor-prescribed. It helped me to cope with the means with which I was using to get the pills.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Feelings of Hydrocodone and Oxycodone

  • The (temporary) “Good” – A wash of relief over my whole body. Everything became manageable and slowed down. The fear and self-loathing disappeared. I had control over everything in my life for a time.
  • The Bad – It didn’t take long for me to begin to stumble in public, talk for hours on end without listening, and get painful constipation.
  • The Ugly – Nodding off at Christmas, getting in 3 car accidents in one day, passing out in public and overdosing.

Despite the horrifying consequences of the bad and the ugly, I always returned to the chase of the “good.” Any addict will tell you that selective memory, or “not playing the tape all the way through,” is why we go back to our drugs or behavior of choice.

Dealing with Anxiety Post-Addiction

At the core of all of this self-destruction was the desire to escape; though I’ve been sober for a long time now, the anxiety is still there.

So what are we supposed to do when we can’t use but still need relief? For me, it starts with distracting myself using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). In fact, my wife knows when I’m using it because I’ll go upstairs, take a bath and play this:

When you’re in the midst of dealing with anxiety, distraction is a great ally. It allows you to recapture control over the situation. In the old days, I’d distract myself by taking drugs, drinking alcohol or binge eating. Now, I treat myself with respect. I find joy and pleasure in the things that build me up — like some woodsy country music and a lavender bath (yeah, I said it). If you’re not in the place where you can make decisions that respect yourself, take a step toward recovery today.

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