Is there a link between Anxiety and Addiction?

Everybody at some point in their lives will experience periods of uncertainty and unease. This can lead to feelings of anxiety.

For most people, these feelings are temporary and will disappear with some breathing exercises and a re-evaluation of the problem that is causing them stress.

However, not everyone works in this way, some people continue to experience the symptoms of anxiety, such as paranoia, fear, feeling uncomfortable in public and panic attacks to name just a few. In reality, anxiety expresses itself in many different ways with different people.

One group of people who are often more susceptible to suffer anxiety at a higher rate than others are current and recovering drug addicts. There is a common misconception that it is the addiction to drugs itself that causes anxiety. While substance use can definitely exacerbate both the root cause of the problem and the symptoms, there is no solid evidence to suggest that addiction is an actual cause of anxiety.

The trauma or root causes of the symptoms of anxiety can drive those with addictive type personalities to use substances as a form of “self- medication.”

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that people with anxiety disorders are 2-3 times more likely to have a substance use disorder. About 20 percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a mood or anxiety disorder.

Anxiety should not be seen as a weakness. Anxiety usually comes from a variety of causes. Each individual case is different, and there is rarely only one cause. Anxiety disorders sometimes develop from the contribution of several factors like:

  • Family history of anxiety or other mental health issues
  • History of trauma, such as child abuse or exposure to violence, increases the risk of developing an anxiety-related condition.
  • Substance abuse: alcohol, drugs or prescription medication misuse can cause changes in the brain chemistry that may trigger or intensify anxiety.
  • Chemical imbalances and side effects of certain medications
  • Long-lasting stress: such as executive burnout
  • Incidence of other mental health disorders: Pre-existing psychiatric disorders (e.g: depression) makes people more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Some common factors in the dual-diagnosis of anxiety and addiction, whereby anxiety triggers substance misuse or vice versa – are:

Self-medicating: Individuals with anxiety disorders often turn to alcohol or drugs in an effort to control their physical or psychological symptoms. (e.g: a manager with social anxiety disorder may use alcohol to cope with stressful presentations or business meetings.)

Effects of substance abuse or withdrawal: Alcohol and drug misuse often causes effects that resemble anxiety (nervousness, agitation, sleeplessness, fear). Similarly, some common symptoms of alcohol or drugs withdrawal include anxiety, restlessness, and sleep disturbances.

Biochemical factors: Both anxiety disorders and substance use disorders are linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. For example, low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin have been linked with both alcoholism and mental illness.

Genetic predisposition: There is evidence that people who are prone to anxiety may also be prone to addiction if there is a family history of both conditions.

Dual diagnosis (or co-occurring disorders) is the medical term that describes the existence of a diagnosis of an addictive disorder such as alcoholism, drug addiction or gambling with an anxiety disorder or other type of mental health issue.

The presence of an anxiety disorder can complicate recovery from substance abuse by triggering stress that can lead to relapse. It can be difficult to stay sober while also trying to manage symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

It can also be difficult to successfully manage overwhelming anxiety while trying to recover from substance dependence or abuse. Therefore, it’s highly recommended that individuals living with dual diagnosis disorders receive integrated treatment approaches that address mental health and substance use disorders simultaneously.

Integrated treatment approaches involve the use of evidence-based treatments that can include a combination of medication, therapy, and alternative holistic practices such as yoga or mindfulness.

If any of the issues in this article have raised any concerns please contact our friendly Treatment Advisors who will answer any questions you may have.