Maladaptive Behaviors to Relieve Anxiety

Maladaptive Behaviors. Getty Images Credit: Jetta Productions

Often used to reduce anxiety, maladaptive behaviors often result in dysfunctional and non-productive outcomes. If you experience frequent panic attacks and have been diagnosed with panic disorder or another anxiety disorder, you may have inadvertently developed maladaptive patterns of behavior to cope with your situation.

People with anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, may use alcohol or other substances to cope with fear and anxiety.

Studies show that people with anxiety disorders are up to three times more likely to have alcohol or another substance abuse disorder compared to people who don't have anxiety disorders.

What Is a Maladaptive Behavior?

Abusing alcohol or other drugs to control stress and anxiety is classified as a maladaptive behavior because it provides only temporary relief from anxiety and actually may create more long-term problems.

Substance abuse does not fix the underlying problem, and long-term alcohol or drug abuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and for some, addiction.

Tolerance can result from using a drug over an extended time. The result of tolerance is that the drug does not produce the desired effect or the effect is diminished.

Tolerance may mean increasing the amount of the drug to produce the desired effect. The physical dependence on a drug often includes tolerance and can be identified by withdrawal symptoms if the drug is abruptly stopped or decreased.

Effects of Maladaptive Behaviors

Common withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol or other drug dependence may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea/stomach upset
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache
  • Decreased concentration
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Drug addiction is a brain disease with components of physical and psychological dependence. Detoxification may help with physical dependence, but the psychological behaviors that are part of addiction can maintain a steadfast hold.

Addiction is a chronic disease and it is common for a person to relapse.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug addiction differs from drug dependence and drug tolerance. Not all people who develop tolerance or physical dependence on a drug will go on to develop all the symptoms of addiction (substance use disorder).

It is believed that certain individuals are predisposed or vulnerable to addiction from biological, psychological, and social influences.

Getting Help for Substance Abuse

Maladaptive behaviors refer to types of behaviors that inhibit a person’s ability to adjust to particular situations. Maladaptive behaviors prevent people from adapting to the demands of life. Initially, excessive use of alcohol or other drugs may appear to provide relief from anxiety, but the long-term effects of substance abuse can be serious.

If you have an anxiety disorder and are abusing alcohol or other drugs, you should talk to your doctor or a therapist. A professional who treats anxiety disorders may also be able to help you address your substance use. Using substances to self-medicate anxiety symptoms can feel like a fix in the short term, but it's more likely to cause distress in the long run.

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  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Part 1: The connection between substance use disorders and mental illness. Updated March 16, 2021.