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The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction are more intertwined than you may have thought. Read on to learn about their shared symptoms and treatment options.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety affects many people differently. However, one common thing in all anxiety cases is that anxiety can severely affect an individual's ability to function properly. To deal with this, several individuals often resort to drug use, which eventually can result in addiction. 

Anxiety has been severely implicated in many addiction issues. Unfortunately, both anxiety and substance abuse disorders have severe impacts on the brain and general body health and wellness.[1]

What is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is a mental disorder. An individual with an anxiety disorder might respond to certain "normal" situations and occurrences with dread and fear, or exhibit "exaggerated" anxious responses to far less threatening situations. Anxiety disorders go beyond normal anxiety, where you experience slight fear and regular nervousness from time to time.

An individual is diagnosed with anxiety disorder when:[2]

  • Anxiety disturbs their overall functioning ability
  • They “overreact” to certain events or circumstances
  • They don't have control over their responses to situations
  • They aren’t able to focus due to extreme anxiety or worry

How Common is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is relatively common, and it affects a wide range of people. For example, according to a study, panic disorder has an occurrence rate of 2% in all adults in the United States, while generalized anxiety disorder also has similar occurrence statistics of 2%. 

A combination of the metrics of all these different types of anxiety disorders sums up to around 30%, meaning that up to 30% of people in the United States suffer from one kind of anxiety disorder. It's also worth mentioning that anxiety disorders are more prevalent in women than in men.[3]

Common Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders. Here are some of the common types:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

This type of anxiety disorder involves excessive and persistent worrying, which interferes with daily activities. The ongoing tensions and worry might be accompanied by physical signs like difficulty sleeping, fatigue, restlessness, or difficulty concentrating.

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are one of the major symptoms of panic disorder. A panic attack is a combination of physiological and physical distress. These are some of the symptoms of a panic attack:

  • Fear of dying
  • Sweating
  • Chest pains
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness


This is the excessive and persistent fear of a situation, activity, or object that isn't naturally harmful. The individual knows their fear is in excess but can't do anything about it. For example, fear of spiders, flying, or public speaking.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

This anxiety disorder occurs when a person is anxious or fearful about separation from loved ones. People with a separation anxiety disorder might find it difficult to sleep away from someone they're attached to, refuse to go out, or even have nightmares about separation. Most times, it develops in childhood and lasts through adulthood.


This is the fear of leaving one’s house or safe space, or, more generally, the fear of the outside world. This can also be categorized as the fear of being in a space where escape may not be easy, or where help wouldn’t be available were things to go wrong.    

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

The causes of anxiety disorders are not fully known. However, several factors have been linked with causing anxiety disorders. They include:

  • Family History: Anxiety disorders can run in families, meaning there may be a genetic component to the mental disorder.
  • History of Trauma: Going through a traumatic event, like exposure to violence or child abuse, increases the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
  • Substance Addiction: The misuse or abuse of drugs or alcohol can cause changes that can intensify or cause anxiety. At the same time, anxiety can be responsible for the abuse of substances.[4]
  • Overexposure to Stress: People who have been exposed to a lot of emotional, physical, and psychological stress are more prone to experience symptoms of anxiety disorders. 
  • Other Mental Illnesses: Anxiety and psychiatric disorders go hand in hand. Someone suffering from depression and other mental conditions is more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than an individual with no existing mental illness.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

There are several signs and symptoms of anxiety, and they are grouped as follows:

Physical Signs of Anxiety

Physical signs of anxiety can differ from person to person, but they often include restlessness, nausea, numbness and tingling of extremities, sweating, and shortness of breath.

Behavioral Signs of Anxiety

Behavioral signs of anxiety often present through symptoms of irritability, agoraphobia, social withdrawal and anxiety, and a reduced ability to perform daily activities. These signs of anxiety may be some of the first you or a loved one notice, since they impact overall behavior.

Psychological Signs of Anxiety

For psychological signs of anxiety, these can manifest in a multitude of ways across those who experience anxiety disorder. Psychological symptoms can include difficulties concentrating, feeling as though one is going crazy, anticipating the worst outcomes, and having your mind go blank. Sometimes, it can also include uncontrollable and obsessive thoughts.

Social Problems of Anxiety

Social problems of anxiety can include:  

  • Feeling helpless
  • Hopelessness and despair
  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling in danger
  • Feelings of dissociation

Other Warning Signs

There can be a varying amount of other warning signs involved with anxiety disorders, but some of these can include heart palpitations, nightmares, muscle tensions, and ritualistic behaviors.

The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

Addiction and anxiety have various connections with each other. Anxiety can make some people self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, meaning that many believe that using drugs can help them manage their anxiety symptoms. However, their consumption of opiates and alcohol then makes them dependent on the opiate or substance of abuse, leading to addiction.

In some other people, addiction is responsible for anxiety. For example, cocaine affects the part of the brain responsible for stress. It encourages dependency and increases stress hormones while triggering anxiety disorders.

Does Addiction or Anxiety Happen First?

This question is tricky to answer because these two conditions can occur together. In some cases, addiction happens first, and the constant abuse of substances will make them stressed and frustrated, leading to anxiety disorder. On the other hand, anxiety can push individuals to start taking drugs to manage their anxiety disorder symptoms, and if this goes on long enough, addiction will ensue.

How Are Anxiety and Addiction Diagnosed?

Anxiety and substance abuse can be diagnosed based on the criteria and steps detailed below.


There are a multitude of exams that doctors often perform to diagnose anxiety and addiction.

  • Physical Exam: A complete physical examination is usually the first step. During the physical examination, your doctor or other health care provider will check your vitals and observe and note down symptoms you may be experiencing. This helps to check for any physical signs of dependency or anxiety. It also determines the kind of treatment an individual will need. 
  • Blood and Urine Tests: Doctors may also carry out urine and blood tests to detect if there are underlying health issues. This helps them in devising a treatment plan.
  • Psychological Questionnaire: This involves asking questions to get to the root of addiction and anxiety. These questions will help the doctor know the kind of anxiety disorders the patient has.

Co-Occurring Anxiety and Addiction Diagnostic Criteria

Just because an individual has both anxiety and addiction doesn't automatically mean they can be diagnosed with dual diagnosis or co-occurring medical conditions. There are some diagnostic criteria they must meet before a diagnosis is made. Patients will be asked questions like:

  • Do you turn to alcohol or other drugs to deal with unpleasant memories or emotions, to manage pain or the severity of your moods, to face terrifying circumstances, or to stay concentrated on your work?
  • Do your drug use and mental health seem to be related to one another? Do you experience depression when you drink, for instance? Or do you drink when you're stressed or troubled by bad memories? 
  •  you drink, for instance? Or do you drink when you're stressed or troubled by bad memories?
  • Has anyone in your family struggled with alcohol or drug misuse or a mental illness?
  • Even when you're sober, do you ever feel worried, depressed, or out of balance?
Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and Addiction Treatment

There are various treatment options available for people with anxiety and substance abuse. These treatment opportunities will be discussed below.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are very effective and safe for treating anxiety and addiction. They include sertraline, paroxetine, and citalopram, among many others. They reduce the constant worries and negative thoughts by reducing the serotonin levels in the brain. This, in turn, can lessen anxiety symptoms.


Therapy teaches patients how to recognize and alter unhelpful or distressing thought patterns that adversely impact behavior or emotions. The goal of therapy is to alter the automatic negative ideas that cause and exacerbate emotional problems, sadness, and anxiety. There are multiple forms of therapy available, including group, individual, and family therapy.

Self-Help Groups

This is the gathering of people with substance abuse and anxiety. They come together to look for ways to get better and improve their life. They can be peer-controlled or self-governed.[5]

How to Help a Loved One With Anxiety and Addiction

These are a few tips to help your loved one with anxiety and addiction:

  • Be nice and don't judge them
  • Prepare yourself for defensive behavior or denial
  • Offer solutions like referring them to a doctor or an addiction center
  • Give them emotional support. You can attend therapy with them as well if that is something they’re interested in.[6]

Get Help for Anxiety and Addiction at Genesis Recovery

Dealing with anxiety and addiction simultaneously can be overwhelming, even for the strongest of people. However, you don't have to go it alone. If you or someone you know is experiencing substance abuse and anxiety symptoms and looking for effective treatment, Genesis Recovery is the perfect place for you.

At Genesis Recovery, our priority is to ensure you get the quality treatment you need to improve your health and well-being. Contact us today, and let's help you get your life back.


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