Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

Generalized anxiety disorder and addiction do not have to be dealt with alone. Learn more here.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Table of Contents

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone feels anxiety, but not everyone has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Generalized anxiety disorder can be difficult to manage and treat, resulting in an increased chance of developing an addiction.

GAD is more than normal anxiety—it’s a fully classified mental health issue characterized by consistent and illogical anxiety or nervousness about everyday activities. Specifically, the symptoms of GAD interfere with day-to-day life and negatively affect one’s quality of life.1

What Causes GAD?

Individuals can develop generalized anxiety disorder as children and adults. Although the exact cause of GAD is not fully understood, there is some evidence that it is related to several factors, including:

  • Genetics—those whose family members have generalized anxiety disorder may be at a higher likelihood to develop it themselves
  • Brain chemistry functionality changes, such as during puberty
  • Individual differences in personality

Furthermore, women are typically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder more often than men. Traumatic experiences may also lead to the development of generalized anxiety disorder, such as car accidents, death of a family member, and so on.2

Distinguishing Generalized Anxiety Disorder from Other Mental Health Issues

Because anxiety—the core symptom of GAD—is something everyone feels to some extent, it can be tough to distinguish generalized anxiety disorder from other issues or regular anxiety itself.

The primary difference between generalized anxiety disorder and other mental health issues is as follows:

  • GAD prevents individuals from functioning normally because of their anxiety. For example, people with this disorder cannot meet social allegations, go to work on time, take care of themselves, or perform other standard tasks because they feel so worried that they either make mistakes or don’t perform the tasks in the first place.

In many ways, GAD can look like depression and anxiety combined. Individuals with GAD may find it difficult to summon the motivation to complete difficult tasks. They may believe that they are destined to fail at anything hard, so they simply avoid trying.

Ultimately, seeking an official diagnosis from a mental health care professional is the best way to determine if you or a loved one has generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

Unfortunately, generalized anxiety disorder is linked to addiction and substance abuse. Substance abuse disorders may be more common among those with GAD because substances may help them manage or cope with their symptoms.

For example, an individual with generalized anxiety disorder may drink alcohol excessively because it’s a form of self-medication. Substance abuse serves as a coping mechanism, but it will likely progress and worsen over time.

Signs and Symptoms of GAD and Addiction

Generalized anxiety disorder and addiction often have symptoms that feed into one another and may make one another worse. Some of the most common symptoms of comorbid GAD and addiction include but are not limited to:

Pervasive Worry

Pervasive worry, especially about everyday things or minor potential problems. If left unchecked, those who suffer from GAD and addiction may experience pervasive worry about things beyond their control, thus making it difficult to relax.

Regular Agitation and Irritability

Agitation and irritability may increase with time since one’s last substance consumption/use, making it difficult to maintain social relationships or behave properly at work.

Trouble Sleeping

Trouble sleeping, even progressing to full-on insomnia. GAD can make it difficult to rest or relax the mind, which is necessary to sleep. In addition, certain substances, such as alcohol or stimulants, could make it physiologically hard to sleep as well.

Regular or Intense Panic Attacks, or Both

Those with generalized anxiety disorder are already at a greater risk of panic attacks, but substance abuse or addiction can increase this likelihood.

Social Avoidance

For some, generalized anxiety disorder manifests as paranoia or distrust in others. This, combined with the behavioral shifts caused by substance abuse, could escalate and make patients feel isolated or alone.

Ultimately, these signs and symptoms are worrying either by themselves or together. They may lead to long-term or chronic mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and more.

How Do These Disorders Affect Each Other?

Above, we noted that generalized anxiety disorder and substance use disorders (SUD) could negatively affect one another or exacerbate each other’s symptoms.3 By themselves, GAD and substance use disorders may lead to:

  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Edginess
  • Restlessness
  • Mood instability
  • Irritability
  • Fear
  • Intense fatigue
  • And more

The Connection Between SUD and GAD

In short, generalized anxiety disorder and substance use disorders create a negative feedback loop or behavioral spiral.

For example, someone anxious about social situations due to their GAD may consume too much alcohol to compensate. Alcohol consumption could be the result of alleviating nervousness or because their peers accept it.

Nevertheless, this could quickly escalate into an addiction, changing a person’s behavior further. As a result, they may feel more irritability and fatigue, losing the short-term confidence they gained. Individuals who consume more substances to compensate lead to an ever-increasing negative spiral where both conditions make each other worse.

Therefore, comorbid GAD and addiction or substance abuse cannot be treated separately. Instead, they must be treated simultaneously and using supportive methods.

Treatments for Co-Occurring GAD and Addiction

Treatments for Co-Occurring GAD and Addiction

Under the supervision of a therapist or mental health care professional, those with co-occurring GAD and addiction can get the treatment they need to thrive once more. There are multiple potential pathways to successful treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy designed to identify and alter negative thought patterns in patients. Working closely with a therapist, patients will:

  • Overcome the negative thought patterns that drive their GAD responses.
  • Discover ways to talk themselves up or overcome anxiety to resume normal activities.
  • Learn to think more positively about themselves and their environment to avoid substance abuse in the future.

CBT is very useful for individuals whose generalized anxiety disorder was triggered by one or more specific events, such as a trauma.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Medication-assisted therapy or medication-assisted treatment is another useful way to treat comorbid GAD and addiction.

MAT involves using prescription medications in conjunction with behavioral therapy or counseling. This tackles both the thought patterns and physiological factors that lie at the root of co-occurring addiction and GAD.

For example, a patient with GAD and addiction may take an antidepressant or antianxiety medication while undergoing regular therapy with their mental health care provider. In this way, they make rapid progress in treating their anxiety symptoms. In addition, the medication serves as a booster to make overcoming the symptoms of addiction more manageable while also minimizing the likelihood of a relapse.

Family Therapy and Support

Family therapy and support can be powerful tools for those suffering from GAD and addiction. Family therapy requires involving close family members, such as siblings or parents, in the therapeutic process.

Family members and close friends can be very helpful to those with GAD and addiction disorders, even outside of therapy. Indeed, having a strong support group offering unconditional love is vital when tackling these challenges.

A strong support network can prove to individuals with anxiety that they’re not alone and offer consistency and stability in their lives.

Peer Support Groups

Peer support groups, such as groups that form during group therapy, can also be strong social tools for managing generalized anxiety disorder and addiction. Peer support groups can hold each other accountable, offer friendships and social support for those lacking these bonds, and create regular, scheduled social interactions.

Scheduled social interactions are very valuable during recovery. They help make a cadence or checklist of appointments for patients, making it easier for said patients to stick with and complete their treatments.

Get Treatment Today for Co-Occurring Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

At the end of the day, the path to treatment for co-occurring anxiety disorders and addiction means finding the courage to seek professional help. Overcoming a substance use disorder can feel like a daunting and isolated task, but it does not have to be. With the help of licensed therapists or mental health care professionals, you or your loved one can find a treatment plan and enter the path back to sobriety.

Addiction treatment organizations like The PAC Program can help. At The PAC Program, we offer a robust range of addiction treatment services ranging from inpatient and outpatient programs to sober living arrangements and more. With our help, you can overcome your addiction and manage the symptoms of your generalized anxiety disorder. Contact our staff today for more information and get the help you need!


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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