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The Correlation Between Anxiety and Addiction

The United States is no stranger to mental illness, as about 1 in 5 American adults have one. 

Anxiety, in particular, is the most common mental illness, with 40 million adults affected. On top of that, more than 21 million people in the country have an addiction, and many of those people have a co-occurring mental illness like anxiety. So it should come as no surprise to see a direct correlation between a mental illness like anxiety and addiction, especially because the most commonly occur simultaneously. 

About 20 million of the 40 million people who have an anxiety disorder (like posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or generalized anxiety) also have a substance use disorder. When these two conditions occur alongside one another, it can become extremely dangerous very rapidly. That is because the cycle of untreated mental illness and substance abuse can continue on for long periods at a time without any sign of slowing down. 

So, how come addiction and anxiety develop co-morbidly so frequently? There are several answers for that. 

Anxiety and Addiction: The Connection

There are a few ways to break this connection down. But, one of the easiest ways to see why these two conditions are correlated with one another is to take a look at the symptoms of each. Consider the following:

Symptoms of addiction:

  • Inability to control how much is being used
  • Attempting to stop use but being unable to do so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to use as much as normal or at all
  • Continued substance abuse despite known (and previously experienced) consequences
  • Secretive behavior 
  • Financial problems
  • Loss of job/trouble finding employment
  • Physical and mental health problems brought on by substance abuse
  • Cravings 
  • Problems sleeping
  • Trouble with appetite 
  • Relationship problems 
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Legal problems 

These are just some of the most common symptoms of substance use disorder. As you can see, many of them can easily lend themselves to the development of an anxiety disorder. For example, problems sleeping and eating can wear away at someone’s physical resiliency, while trying to keep their substance abuse a secret and control cravings can weaken their psychological resiliency. Problems such as unemployment, arguments with loved ones, and legal issues can produce a regularly occurring sense of impending doom or destruction, which is an awfully heavy load to carry. Additionally, depending on the type of substance they are using, a person might use an anti-anxiety medication to curb the effects of the drug they abuse. For example, someone who is addicted to cocaine is more likely to use benzodiazepines to calm down their side effects than someone who is addicted to heroin or other opioids. The idea of being able to take a Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan to help calm these and other nerves can seem like a quick fix to someone who is already addicted to another substance. 

But, what happens when it’s the anxiety disorder that occurs before the substance use disorder? How do the two correlate then? Consider the following:

Symptoms of anxiety:

  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Problems thinking clearly
  • Gastrointestinal problem (like diarrhea or vomiting)
  • Avoidance of triggers 
  • Panicking
  • Detachment from reality
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Obsessive behavior 

Just as substance use disorders produce troublesome symptoms, so do anxiety disorders. Like most mental illnesses, anxiety can be treated so that these symptoms do not interfere with everyday life. But, if someone with an anxiety disorder is not getting treated or is not obtaining the appropriate amount or type of treatment, these symptoms can quickly become uncontrollable. Being anxious all day and experiencing these symptoms can easily drive a person to look for a quick and easy fix to all of their problems. This is when people start to drink or do drugs, even though they likely do not have any intention of becoming addicted to them. 

When anxiety and substance use disorders continue to occur simultaneously, both issues become worse. The symptoms tied to each become more pronounced and intense, driving some individuals to use more and more. Eventually, a person’s condition can become so out-of-control that they suffer significant, life-altering consequences or die as a result of overdose.

Other Factors 

Outside of the symptoms that both conditions produce, there are biological and environmental factors that can trigger the onset of anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. Some biological factors that lend themselves to both substance use disorder and anxiety include the following:

  • History of anxiety disorders in the family 
  • Low levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain 
  • Genetic predisposition 

Environmental factors that can influence the development of the two conditions can include:

  • Poverty
  • Violence/substance abuse in the home and/or within the community
  • History of abuse (physical, sexual, mental, emotional)
  • Abandonment/neglect
  • Trauma (such as natural disaster, sudden loss of a loved one, or experiencing a major accident)

Many individuals have experienced/are experiencing one or more of these factors. While many factors cannot be fully prevented, they can be addressed professionally to help mitigate the risk of developing an anxiety disorder and/or a substance use disorder. If mitigation is not possible, treatment can still help to keep either condition manageable so that a person can lead a happy, healthy life.

Anxiety and Addiction Treatment in South Florida

If you are struggling with a substance use disorder or an anxiety disorder, do not try to go through this alone. We are here to help guide and support you on your road to recovery. We know how difficult it is to deal with these two conditions at the same time, and we commend you for getting this far. But, by getting the help you need, you can say goodbye to your past life of substance abuse and uncontrollable anxiety and begin living a life that is free from the setbacks those conditions produce.

So, if you are ready, call us at Genesis House right now. Do not waste any more time. Reach out and get the help you deserve.