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Anxiety Disorders & Drug Abuse

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Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a feeling of tension, physical changes such as elevated blood pressure, or worried thoughts. Typically, individuals with anxiety disorders experience intrusive worries or thoughts repeatedly. These people may stay away from specific circumstances out of fear. They might also experience physical side effects like:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • An accelerated heartbeat

These uncomfortable and hard-to-regulate sensations of worry and panic interfere with daily activities. To stop these feelings, you could avoid triggers, like certain circumstances or locations. Many people need help from professional therapists to understand the sources of their anxiety and learn to cope with it.

Underlying Causes of Anxiety or Addiction

Listed below are a few underlying causes of anxiety or addiction:

  • Family history: You might be more prone to anxiety if a parent or other close family member suffers from an anxiety disorder.
  • History of trauma: The probability of getting an anxiety-related condition like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) increases after experiencing a stressful incident, such as witnessing child abuse or being around violence.
  • Substance abuse: Anxiety may be triggered or worsened by brain abnormalities brought on by alcohol or drug abuse. A driving factor for substance misuse can also be anxiety.
  • Overexposure to stress: People who experience significant levels of stress regularly—emotional, psychological, or physical—are more likely to display symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
  • Other mental illnesses: Anxiety and psychiatric illnesses frequently coexist. For instance, someone with depression is more likely to experience an anxiety disorder than someone who isn’t depressed.

People with anxiety disorders frequently abuse alcohol or drugs to manage their symptoms. Individuals who experience anxiety are twice as likely to abuse drugs as non-anxious people. Unfortunately, attempts at self-medication frequently have the opposite effect and make the symptoms of severe mental illness worse. When the psychological and physical effects of anxiety get worse, you might be tempted to consume more drugs or alcohol to function normally. A cycle of drug usage develops, which can result in chemical dependency and addiction.

The following are the most common drugs of abuse in people with anxiety disorders:

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders: Anxiety Disorder and Substance Abuse

A person who has two disorders at the same time has co-occurring disorders.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that approximately 9.2 million adults in the U.S. have two or more disorders.

A co-occurring disorder can describe any combination of disorder and disease, but it’s frequently used to refer to those with a substance use disorder and another mental ailment like anxiety or depression. The interactions between the symptoms may have an impact on how both disorders progress. This is also known as “dual diagnosis” or having co-occurring diseases.

A diagnosis of a substance use disorder and an anxiety disorder indicates that both disorders must be collaboratively treated. You can’t ignore either one but must treat both. The only way to approach the situation is to address all your issues together. For those with co-occurring disorders, treating both disorders can enhance results and quality of life, including:

  • Reduced or stopped drug or alcohol use
  • Improvement in psychiatric functions and symptoms
  • Better chance for successful recovery and treatment
  • Higher standard of living
  • Limited interaction with substances
  • Higher housing stability


Medication may be a short- or long-term treatment choice, depending on your symptoms and how you respond to treatment. Medication is frequently combined with psychotherapy or behavioral treatment.

The most popular family of antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are used to treat some types of anxiety, such as:

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social phobia

These drugs function by raising serotonin levels in the brain, which control mood, appetite and sleep. Serotonin supplementation enhances the flow of information between brain cells, which elevates your mood and reduces anxiety.

Antidepressants may be used to treat anxiety problems in some situations, but they should be combined with other therapies. The disorder cannot be treated well with medication alone.


Psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy is when you  work with a therapist to lessen your symptoms of anxiety by talking about those situations that cause anxiety or work to alleviate symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used and effective psychotherapy treatment for someone with anxiety disorders. CBT, which is typically a short-term therapy, focuses on teaching you specific techniques to reduce your anxiety symptoms and eventually resume the things you’ve put off due to worry. In exposure treatment of anxiety, you are placed in a situation that causes you extreme anxiety, so you are forced to overcome your fears in a safe environment. You then gain confidence in your ability to alleviate those anxious symptoms while you deal head on with the situation that causes you anxiety or stress. In essence, you are exposed to the therapy until you learn how to effectively handle the anxious feelings.

People with anxiety disorders frequently engage in therapy in some capacity for the remainder of their lives. Over time, the therapy’s intensity typically lessens. In a structured treatment program, patients might begin with daily therapy sessions, but, as they progress, later only see their therapist once a week or once a month.

A Comprehensive Approach

Treatment for a co-occurring substance use disorder frequently includes medical detoxification and may involve additional medications to curb drug urges. Both your substance misuse and your anxiety issues will be treated in therapy, along with how they are connected.

It’s recommended that you seek therapy for substance abuse from an addiction center, where addiction professionals can make sure you’re getting the help you need. Substance abuse treatment programs include:

As an aide to therapy, joining a peer support group like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) is recommended. Although these sessions don’t replace therapy, they can be a very helpful support system for people in recovery. Additionally, you will develop an aftercare strategy with your medical team. This process includes numerous activities that promote a healthy, balanced existence and provides a framework for life while in recovery from substance abuse.

Facts and Statistics About Anxiety Disorders and Drug Abuse

Remembering that various sorts of people encounter anxiety disorders and drug abuse problems might be helpful if you discover that your anxiety is hurting your life and how you perform. You could feel less alone if you are informed. Learn more:

  • The most prevalent mental disorder in the United States, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults (18.1% of the population) each year.
  • The number of young adults (18 to 25) who first used alcohol in the previous year climbed from 1.2 million in 2002 to 2.4 million in 2019. In this same age group, the number who first used marijuana in the previous year climbed from 733,000 to 1.2 million over the same time period. Young people who started abusing prescription painkillers in the previous year fell from 596,000 in 2015 to 404,000 in 2019.
  • Over 30% of American adults report experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive illness, up from 11% of adults before the pandemic.
  • With lifetime rates of 28.8% for anxiety disorders and 14.6% for drug use disorders, respectively, these conditions are among the most prevalent mental issues in the U.S.
  • The National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2021 estimates that 9.2 million individuals in the U.S. have a co-occurring condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are five major anxiety disorders and they are:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder

Stress is extremely detrimental. Pathological and persistent stress can cause the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC) to deteriorate and perform less effectively. This may help explain why people are more prone to conditions like dementia and depression.

Drug or alcohol abuse can produce anxiety, such as jitteriness, agitation, insomnia, irritability and obsessive concerns.

If you have an anxiety disorder and drug abuse problem, it’s time to seek support from an addiction treatment center to learn more about your unique situation and get control of your anxiety and addiction. These conditions can worsen if neglected and have a long-term harmful effect on your life. If you, a relative, or someone you love and care about is struggling with anxiety and addiction, Footprints to Recovery is here for you. We can help you find the recovery program that’s right for you. You’ll engage in treatment for anxiety and substance abuse disorders that will help take your life back from alcohol and drugs, as well as anxiety. 

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