Finding the Right Diagnosis: Anxiety and Comorbid Conditions
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Finding the right diagnosis is potentially the most crucial step in receiving appropriate and effective care. Many people will seek help for an ongoing condition only to discover that there is another or multiple other conditions simultaneously at play. Comorbidity refers to the presence of multiple conditions in effect simultaneously or presenting themselves in an alternating fashion. Anxiety disorders can play a lead role and be an underlying condition in mental health diagnosis. A holistic evaluation of all the potential comorbid conditions is always beneficial in creating a treatment plan.
It is important to recognize that anxiety is a part of everyday life and also serves a vital purpose. Most people routinely experience anxiety, worry, and fear in their daily lives. When our bodies perceive an impending threat, it enters into a state of heightened awareness and readiness fueled by the release of adrenaline. This adrenaline release gives the body energy to move to safety or fight when threatened. It is an essential survival function. Discussion around disorders arises when there is no apparent threat, and yet the body remains in a state of readiness.
Individuals with anxiety disorders often find that ordinary activities are enough to trigger intense feelings of fear, terror, worry, and anxiety. As these intense feelings persist, they begin to cause disruption and interference in the daily lives of the individual. Reports indicate that nearly 30% of Americans struggle with some type of anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental health disorder. The major anxiety disorders identified by the American Psychiatric Association are as follows:
- Specific phobia
- Social anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Separation anxiety disorder
Of these disorders, phobias and social anxiety disorders are the most prevalent. All of these disorders center around a strong physical reaction to a perceived threat. If anxiety disorders are left unchecked, they can easily become debilitating and lead to other health complications. Because of their broad and often pervasive nature, anxiety disorders create an environment for the comorbid condition to surface. Before the topic of comorbid conditions can be discussed, it is essential to know what causes anxiety disorders initially.
The Origins of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders have many different potential points of origin. Though there is much uncertainty around the causes of anxiety disorders, the popular opinion amongst researchers is that they arise in response to early traumatic experiences. Experiences with sexual, emotional, or physical abuse have been closely linked to later developmental issues and mental health conditions such as anxiety.
Researchers also suggest that prolonged exposure to intolerable conditions contributes to the formation of anxiety disorders. This may look like prolonged or consistent periods of neglect, starvation, malnutrition, and unsanitary living conditions. Anxiety disorders are especially prevalent in adults who witnessed traumatic events as children.
It is important to recognize that trauma is very subjective and varies case by case. What some may call an objectively traumatic experience may leave some individuals seemingly unaffected while others may develop debilitating conditions like anxiety.
Anxiety issues can also spawn from underlying health issues. Many individuals who struggle with chronic illness and chronic pain also report heightened anxiety that interferes with their daily life. Some of these issues include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tumors, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain from autoimmune diseases.
Finding the Right Diagnosis: Comorbid Conditions
Comorbidity, or having multiple conditions occurring simultaneously, is very common in individuals who struggle with anxiety disorders. Often people will try to find ways to alleviate their anxious feelings through self-medication or alternative means.
One of the most common conditions that accompany anxiety disorders is substance use disorder (SUD). This disorder commonly develops as individuals try to self-medicate their anxiety disorder through narcotics and other harmful substances. The goal isn’t initially to develop an addiction but rather to find a way to cope with the anxiety and get back to a normal pace of life. Unfortunately, the dependency rate for many of the substances that are commonly used is very high.
Another common co-occurring disorder that accompanies anxiety disorders is depression. Depression and anxiety are commonly linked together as co-occurring disorders as they both have origins in early development. Research indicates that it is typically anxiety disorders usually manifest first in early adolescence, followed by depressive disorders in adolescence and early adulthood.
Depression is very debilitating and can often have long-term effects. The following are some of the symptoms of depressive disorders:
- Loss of motivation
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dramatic weight gain or weight loss
- Lethargy and low energy
- Low sex drive
- Withdrawal and isolation
Many individuals experience these symptoms for brief periods in their lives, which does immediately indicate a major depressive disorder. Depression is often confused with sadness. While some of the symptoms may be similar, depression occurs over a prolonged period, or episodes may happen consecutively.
Getting the Right Diagnosis for Anxiety and Comorbid Conditions
Diagnosis is a crucial and often difficult part of evaluating a treatment plan. Assessing the disorder tricky because anxiety is commonly underlying another more prominent condition. For example, individuals who are addicted to substances may seek help for sobriety because that condition is prominent and utilizes a lot of energy. Meanwhile, their anxiety disorder is left unchecked.
One of the most prominent forms of treatment for those who struggle with anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of talk therapy that is conducted in a secure and confidential relationship between a client and a professional counselor. This form of therapy is especially effective for treating anxiety disorders because it is largely dedicated to processing and grieving traumatic experiences and developing coping strategies. Also, professional counselors can accurately assess if medications will be a useful tool in the therapeutic process.
Anxiety disorders are serious conditions and should be handled with care. They can also be accompanied by a wide range of comorbid disorders that make diagnosis and treatment especially difficult. Many individuals try to self-medicate their anxiety disorders through the use of substances. This often makes matters even worse as the root of the anxiety is left unaddressed. At Alter Behavioral Health, we have developed special programs designed to treat anxiety disorders and all comorbid conditions. Individuals seeking help will be greeted by a highly qualified and skilled staff that is dedicated to providing the help and guidance needed to tackle these tough issues. For more information about our treatment plans and program, call (866) 691-4386.