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Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction


Generalized anxiety disorder and addiction often co-occur. Learn the signs of this disorder and how to seek treatment help.

Today’s fast-paced lifestyles inevitably bring on feelings of anxiety that come and go. With generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, anxiety turns into fears and worries that actually impair your ability to manage daily life affairs. When combined with drugs and alcohol, your ability to function suffers considerably. For these reasons, generalized anxiety disorder and addiction tend to co-occur on a frequent basis.

Living with generalized anxiety disorder and addiction may work for a while, but the ongoing effects of these disorders can cause more serious problems to develop over time. While it can be easy to overlook feelings of nervousness and insecurity, using alcohol and drugs to cope is a recipe for disaster. Getting needed treatment help offers you the very best chance of building a life that reinforces your sense of self and well-being. can help you find the type of treatment supports you need to overcome symptoms of GAD and addiction in your life. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) with any questions you may have about GAD and addiction treatment programs.

Statistics on Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

  • According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, an estimated 2.8 percent of American adults, or four million people, struggle with generalized anxiety disorder
  • As many as 20 percent of people living with mood disorders engage in substance abuse
  • 20 percent of substance abusers suffer from an anxiety or mood disorder.
  • While generalized anxiety disorder is highly treatable, only 36.9 percent of sufferers actually receive the help they need
  • GAD sufferers are six times more likely to be hospitalized for their condition than non-GAD individuals
  • Approximately 45 percent of people with mental health problems struggle with two or more disorders at the same time

Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

Addiction problems often develop out of stress and anxiety-ridden conditions where healthy coping behaviors are lacking. These same conditions can also cause generalized anxiety disorder to develop. For these reasons, causes of generalized anxiety disorder and addiction tend to mirror one another.

For some people, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are also genetic components that make them more susceptible to developing GAD and addiction. Another common factor between the two conditions is past traumas, such as sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Other potential causes of generalized anxiety disorder and addiction include:

  • A family history of mood-based disorders
  • Childhood abuse
  • Brain chemical imbalances
  • Chronic or severe medical conditions
  • Drastic changes in hormone levels, such as what occurs during menopause

Forms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction to Watch For

According to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, difficulties managing interpersonal relationships play a central role in how generalized personality disorder takes shape within your day-to-day life. In effect, learned relationship patterns in childhood account for much of the dysfunction that comes with GAD. As a result, individuals struggling with GAD interact with others in such a way that fear and anxiety “naturally” result from their daily interactions.

Fear of abandonment, needing to being accepted and feeling like you don’t belong all combine to create the undercurrent of anxiety that characterizes GAD. Using alcohol or drugs to relieve feelings of insecurity and anxiousness only makes symptoms of GAD more difficult to manage.

Underlying Links Between Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

While using drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings of anxiety may offer temporary relief, the relationship between GAD and substance abuse makes for a dangerous cycle of behavior that can quickly spin out of control. Many who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder don’t know they have it, but rather view the discomfort and anxiety they experience as “nerves” and wait for it to pass, or try to power through it.

After so many months or years, symptoms of GAD reach a point where ignoring or its effects no longer works, which opens the door for substance abusing behaviors. Alcohol and drugs work by targeting the areas of the brain the produce feelings of pleasure, calm and well-being.

Over time, these substances change the way the brain works, turning the brain into a drug-dependent environment. In the process, the two brain disorders -generalized anxiety disorder and addiction- start to work as one, with one condition strengthening the effects of the other.

Finding a treatment program that offers the level of support you need to overcome GAD and addiction can greatly improve your quality of life.

Call to ask about available treatment options.

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Short-Term Effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

The relationship that forms between generalized anxiety disorder and addiction sets a cycle of self-medication and rebound anxiety in motion. In effect, anxiety is one of the withdrawal effects experienced when a drug or alcohol “high” wears off. Not only does anxiety return, but it comes back even stronger than before. At this point, resuming substance-abusing behavior becomes that much easier considering the condition you’re in.

Other short-term effects to watch for include:

  • Insomnia, or problems getting asleep or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Drug cravings
  • Recurring withdrawal episodes
  • Muscle tension
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Irritability
  • Confused thinking
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed pursuits
  • Loss of motivation to meet daily responsibilities
  • Headaches

Long-Term Effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

The emotional turmoil and anxiety experienced by GAD sufferers reflects what’s going on within the brain’s chemical system. An imbalanced chemical environment in the brain disrupts communications between the brain’s systems. These conditions account for the mental and emotional discomfort that generalized anxiety disorder brings. Drug and alcohol abuse produce similar effects.

When left untreated, generalized anxiety disorder gets progressively worse with time. When a substance abuse problem is at work, the rate of decline is even faster as the makings of an addiction problem take root.

According to the journal of Pharmacy & Therapeutics, living with GAD and addiction on a long-term basis can cause other serious problems and conditions to develop, including:

Signs You or Someone You Know Struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

The sooner you can spot signs of generalized anxiety disorder and addiction, the easier the recovery process will be. Signs to watch for include:

  • Needing increasingly larger doses of drugS or alcohol to experience the same desired effects
  • Increasing need for drug or alcohol effects
  • Problems in your relationships
  • Fear of leaving the house
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feelings of depression
  • Frequent health problems, such as colds or muscle aches
  • Noticeable mood swings

Treatment Options for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, behavioral therapies and medication treatments work well at relieving the more distressing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. The same lines of treatment can also be used to treat addiction problems. The severity and specifics of your condition will determine what course of treatment will work best for you.

Detox Treatment

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder and addiction can’t begin until drug and alcohol use stop. Detox programs specialize in providing the types of treatment supports you’ll need to stop substance-abusing practices. These programs also offer behavior-based treatment interventions that can be helpful in curbing the behaviors that fuel anxiety and drug cravings.

Inpatient Treatment

If you’re struggling with medical problems or other forms of mental illness on top of GAD and addiction, inpatient-based programs are best equipped to offer the level of treatment support needed during the early stages of recovery. These programs provide medical treatment, mental health care and addiction treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

If you’re still at the early stages of substance abuse or have work and family obligations to meet, an outpatient program may be enough to help you take back control of your life from GAD and depression. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, outpatient programs enable you to stay engaged in the recovery process while still attending to the affairs of your daily life.

While these programs can be helpful, someone who’s developed a full-blown addiction problem may want to consider a more intensive level program during the early stages of recovery.

Medication Therapies

Medication therapies used to treat generalized anxiety disorder and addiction help stabilize the brain’s chemical system and restore a sense of well-being and calm.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, medications commonly used to treat GAD include:

  • Antidepressants, such as Celexa and Zoloft
  • Beta-blockers, such as Inderal and Tenormin
  • Anticonvulsants, such as Neurontin and Lyrica

Medication used to treat alcohol and opiate-based addictions include methadone, Suboxone, Campral and Antabuse.

When to Consider Getting Treatment Help

Once the effects of generalized anxiety disorder and addiction start to impact your relationships, impair your job performance or cause health problems to develop, it’s time to seek professional help. Otherwise, these conditions will only get worse with time.

Contact Us for More Information works with a network of treatment program providers so we’re more than able to help you find the level of care you need to overcome the effects of GAD and addiction in your life. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to discuss treatment options with someone.


  1. Missouri Department of Mental Health. (2007). Facts About Addiction and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2017). Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 
  3. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. (2011). Interpersonal Pathoplasticity in Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
  4. Pharmacy and Therapeutics. (2013). Current Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders. 
  5. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2017). Treatment Options for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Behavioral Health Treatments and Services.
  7. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2018). Medication. 
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