The Connection Between Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Edited by Paul Alexander

Last updated June 13, 2014

According to the National Institutes of Health, 42 million people throughout The United States are currently living with an anxiety disorder. This can include generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or panic disorder.

Living with anxiety can be incredibly challenging, especially as it can seemingly impact everything that a person does throughout their day. According to the Mayo Clinic, most common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Unrelenting worry or concern about realistic and/or unrealistic fears
  • Fatigue due to the inability to sleep or relax the mind
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Excessive urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Gastrointestinal issues (i.e. nausea, diarrhea)
  • Irritability
  • Problems concentrating

While not everyone with an anxiety disorder will experience all of these symptoms, even just having a few of them lingering from day-to-day can be enough to impact an individual’s life. In many cases, those who suffer from an untreated anxiety disorder often turn to drugs and/or alcohol to cope.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that 8.9 million people are currently dealing with a co-occurring disorder, such as an anxiety disorder and a substance abuse problem. However, only a little less than 8% of those individuals seek treatment for their issues.

Anxiety tends to stay present in the body for long periods at a time. In some cases, the feeling of anxiety can happen suddenly, causing fear in an individual that is worried about when their next attack might be. In an effort to self-soothe, many people turn to substances such as alcohol and/or tranquilizing medications to help calm their nerves. Anytime they are fearful of an attack, or are tired of putting up with the constant anxiety, they are likely to turn to the use of these substances.

Addiction does not just occur in those individuals who are going untreated, as those who receive treatment can also find themselves addicted. In some cases, this occurs as a result of the overuse and/or reliance on a medication prescribed to them by their doctor. Since anxiety can produce such intense fear, many people who are being treated might take advantage of the medication they are being prescribed simply because they want to feel normal.

Anxiety is a complex disorder that is often very disturbing and disruptive to those who have it. The most effective way to prevent addiction from developing is to obtain the right level of care from a primary care physician, a therapist, or a combination of both.

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Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.