Ask an Expert: How Do I Deal With Anxiety Without Drugs

By Janice Dorn 02/19/15

Today's question is on how to deal with chronic anxiety without turning to self-medication.


I’m 22 and have had anxiety issues for most of my life and my parents sent me to shrinks. When I was 17 I started using pot heavily, went off to college, didn’t do well, got into drinking a lot, dropped out. The one persistent thing since 17 has been shrinks, pot and alcohol, with occasional speed and ecstasy. The shrinks have been useless against both the anxiety and my tendency to medicate it. AA didn’t work as I couldn’t get into the higher power thing though I liked some of the people I met. I’ve tried some meds for anxiety but don’t like how they make me feel. I’m not a good meditator. I guess I am a hard case but I am willing to try other things and see what works. Please give me some suggestions – Doreen


Janice Dorn:  Hello, Doreen. Thanks for having the courage to reach out for help. You are not alone in suffering from anxiety and not being able to get help. There are at least 40 million adults in the U.S. who suffer from anxiety. Yet, only about a third of these people try to get help. Congratulations on being one of those who are attempting to get help.

The fact that you have had anxiety for most of your life and have not been able to get relief is of considerable concern. Nothing is working and you are using drugs that are going o end up making your anxiety a lot worse.

You may find it of great interest to read one of the best sagas of the search for anxiety relief that has been published in some time. It is written by the editor of The Atlantic magazine, Scott Stossel, and is called “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread and The Search for Peace of Mind.” The author describes himself as “a living repository of all the pharmacological trends in anxiety treatment of the last half century.” In addition, he has undergone multiple types of talking therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive therapy, eye movement desensitization plus biofeedback, hypnosis, acupuncture and a virtual panoply of treatments for anxiety.

My approach to treating you would be to first rule out that there is a true physical condition that is causing the anxiety. I would first do a complete physical examination as well as blood tests. There are a number of physical conditions that can manifest as anxiety, including thyroid disorders, migraine or other headaches, cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions, endocrine abnormalities and some neurological conditions. It is critical for you to rule out any underlying physical condition that is causing or making your anxiety worse. If there is a physical basis for your anxiety, that should be treated.

If no physical basis can be found, then we must look to the possibility that your body has been under an enormous amount of stress for many years. Unable to find a healthy outlet for the stress, you are probably making unhealthy decisions about your lifestyle. By this I mean that you are most likely in a state of chronic inflammation (both of your brain and your body) that has been brought on by poor eating habits, lack of exercise, use of legal and illegal drugs, poor sleep habits and thoughts or worries that are causing you to be toxic. I would not be surprised to learn that you are having issues with digestion, food allergies, skin eruptions, headaches, joint pains, and that you feel tired a lot of the time with very low energy.

If you are unable to get an answer from a doctor who is trained in Western medicine (M.D., D.O.), you may possibly be helped by finding a really good naturopathic doctor who has extensive experience with nutritional healing and detoxification. If you decide to go this route, make sure you do your research and find someone who is board certified and has a good reputation. You are long overdue for relief and for finding someone who is willing to look at the entire Doreen from a holistic perspective. The goal would be to reduce your anxiety by 50%. I wish you much success with this and would love to hear back from you. There is hope!



Janice Dorn, MD, PhD, specializes in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. She holds a PhD in Anatomy and has done extensive research and teaching in brain anatomy and physiology. She is also an expert on addiction to stock trading and on stock trading itself. Her second book, Mind, Money and Markets, with co-author Dave Harder, is scheduled for publication in the fall.    Full Bio.

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