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Is Substance Abuse Magnifying Your Anxiety Symptoms?


More than 18% of adult US citizens are thought to have some form of anxiety. Clinical anxiety is characterized by constant, sometimes irrational, worries that can interfere with employment, close relationships, and social events. In order to cope with their symptoms, people with anxiety disorders sometimes misuse alcohol or medications. Substance abuse can intensify these symptoms and backfire.

Underlying Causes of Anxiety

Experts are still investigating the root causes of anxiety though many hypotheses exist regarding their causes:

Family History

A person can become more vulnerable to anxiety disorders if their parent or other close relative has an anxiety disorder.


Traumatic events, such as childhood neglect or violence, can increase the risk of developing anxiety-related disorders such as PTSD.

Substance Abuse

Abusing alcohol or drugs can cause neurological changes that are likely to induce or aggravate anxiety. Anxiety can also motivate substance abuse.

High Stress Levels

People who are constantly exposed to elevated levels of stress (emotional, social, or physical) are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.

Mental Illnesses

It is not uncommon for psychological disorders to accompany anxiety. Depression, for instance, is associated with an increased risk of anxiety disorders.

Symptoms of Common Anxiety Disorders

Despite the fact that anxiety can take different forms, some symptoms are consistent in every anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder warning signs include the following:

  • General or specific anxiety for more than six months.
  • An overall decline in quality of life, work performance, and social activities.
  • Failure to overcome the fears despite repeated attempts.
  • Substance abuse such as drinking, smoking, or overeating.
  • Physical signs of anxiety include sweating, shortness of breath, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, nausea, or stomach aches in response to situations or circumstances perceived to be threatening or dangerous.

The person must experience the symptoms of an anxiety disorder on most days for the past six months or longer before receiving a medical diagnosis, so it is best to see a professional who can diagnose you for a specific anxiety disorder

What Causes People with Anxiety to Rely on Substance Abuse

Longer spans of substance abuse are common among people with anxiety disorders, and they are more likely to fall back into substance use after relapsing. People with anxiety disorders may also suffer more extreme symptoms at the end of their withdrawal.

Several causes exist for the need to abuse drugs induced by anxiety, or vice versa.

1.   Need Help To Manage Symptoms

People with anxiety problems are likely to use drugs or alcohol to control their physical or psychological symptoms. A veteran who suffers from PTSD might rely on alcohol to get through unpleasant social situations, which could lead to chemical dependency.

2.   Biochemical Factors

Anxiety disorders and substance use disorders may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. Serotonin levels play an important role in regulating mood, energy levels, sleep, metabolism, and other functions. Low serotonin level shave been associated with alcoholism and psychiatric illnesses.

3.   Genetics

Genetic factors might play a role in both addiction and anxiety disorders. If they come from a life in which drug abuse and addiction are prevalent, people afflicted with anxiety may also be susceptible to addiction.

4.   Addiction And Withdrawal Effects

Anxiety-like symptoms may include nervousness, insomnia, irritability, and obsessive thoughts as a result of a drug or alcohol addiction. As individuals recover from the effects of drugs, they may experience fear, restlessness, and insomnia as the brain is readjusting to its chemical balance.

How to Help a Loved One with Anxiety and Addictions

Take A Caring, Non-Judgmental Stance

A person’s mental illness and addiction can affect their relationships, work performance, and the quality of their life. Be prepared for refusal or defensive actions. Counselors and therapists, particularly where there is a possibility for angry or aggressive reactions.

Keep In Mind That Anxiety And Addiction Are Real Diseases

Addiction is known as a chronic brain disorder, and anxiety is not a personality trait, but a type of mental illness. Addiction counseling and trained professionals can treat both anxiety and addiction.

Offer Practical And Emotional Support

Recommending specific rehabilitation tools is useful. Help them by offering practical assistance, such as attending a 12-Step meeting or working with a therapist.

Get Treatment for Anxiety

Taking prescription medications can pose significant risks to people with anxiety and substance abuse. The best way to cope with anxiety is usually to learn healthy coping mechanisms through counseling and therapy.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit our Anxiety Counseling & Substance Use page or call 919-647-4600.

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