The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder that can seriously impact an individual’s ability to function in everyday life. To help themselves cope, people with an anxiety disorder often use drugs and alcohol — a dynamic that can quickly lead to addiction and a dual diagnosis. 

In fact, nearly 30% of Americans with a serious mental illness have a substance use disorder. And while this statistic applies to a broad group of mental health disorders, the trend remains the same when we focus on anxiety. For instance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, individuals with a drug use disorder were nearly 30% more likely to have an anxiety disorder

Understanding that there’s a strong connection between anxiety and addiction is the first step in escaping the vicious cycle these co-occurring conditions can create. The more educated you are about the linkages, the likelier you are to pursue a recovery plan that ends in success. 

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder, characterized by strong and consistent feelings of worry or fear that occur during everyday situations, that affects roughly 40 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Anxiety is a diverse mental health condition and can be caused by any number of stressful life experiences that have occurred recently or in the past. Some common triggers of anxiety include: 

  • A change in your living arrangements.
  • The death of a loved one. 
  • Trauma or serious emotional shock. 
  • Stressful events such as a car accident or a fire. 
  • A change in your living arrangements. 
  • Stress at work or a job change. 
  • Family and relationship issues. 
  • Sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. 

For many people, the signs and symptoms of an anxiety condition are likewise diverse and will become apparent differently. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate and heart palpitations.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Perspiration.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Inability to cope with stressful events
  • Fear and uneasiness.
  • Difficulty sitting still or concentrating.
  • Muscle tension or tension headaches.

Many individuals who suffer also describe simply not being able to turn off their thoughts; their minds are always racing from thought to thought, worrying, and uneasy about things that would not normally matter to someone. Even the smallest issue or potential hiccup can seem like a huge, insurmountable problem for a person who has anxiety.

To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ll need to see a doctor and submit to an examination. Sometimes physical issues or conditions such as hypothyroidism can produce symptoms similar to an anxiety disorder. If you experience anxiety on a regular basis that inhibits you from going about your daily life, it’s a good idea to see a doctor and ask them about your condition. 

If you are diagnosed with anxiety, you’ll typically be diagnosed with a specific anxiety disorder. These formal diagnoses are important and will influence the care and treatment programs you receive for your condition. A person can even have multiple anxiety disorders at the same time. Some common forms of anxiety disorders include: 

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is the term most often used for individuals who suffer from a constant and often irrational state of worry. Not only does the feeling persist for months or even years, but no matter what happens, there seems to be no resolution in sight.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs after a traumatic event. When a person encounters a situation similar to the traumatic event, they can experience anxiety. 
  • Panic Disorder. Panic attacks are short episodes of overwhelming terror. The symptoms can feel similar to those of a heart attack, with some people feeling like they are about to die. 
  • Phobias. A phobia is an intense fear of specific things. You may have a phobia of public speaking, for instance, or a specific animal. Depending on the phobia, it can easily interfere with your daily life.
  • Social anxiety disorders. People with social anxiety disorder fear interacting with others. They can also begin to feel anxious when they’re in crowded spaces.

Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction often go hand in hand, although how they interact will be different for each individual. A person’s anxiety may cause them to seek out a substance to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms, or the addiction itself may increase their likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder. 

Some common addictions that can interact with anxiety include: 

Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is when a person struggling with substance abuse and addiction also suffers from a co-occurring mental disorder. These co-occurring disorders often play a role in stimulating a person’s addiction to a given drug or alcohol as they attempt to treat the negative effects of their specific disorder. Some common co-occurring disorders include:


Because co-occurring disorders can form a vicious cycle, the most successful treatment plans will address both the individual’s substance use disorder and their mental health disorder. 

Treating Anxiety and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

The best way to treat substance abuse and anxiety is with professional alcohol or drug rehab treatment designed to address the unique problems associated with mental illness and addiction. When a person is diagnosed with a mental illness such as anxiety in addition to addiction, it’s referred to as a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis patients may require specialized treatment designed to address both the mental illness and addiction aspects of their problems. Our dual diagnosis services can help treat and manage anxiety and substance abuse.

At Beachway, our highly trained and experienced therapists are qualified to address the physical and mental symptoms of a dual diagnosis patient to facilitate a successful recovery plan, while our holistic treatment approach aims to heal a patient’s mind, body, and soul through unique therapy treatments, nutritional counseling, mindfulness, and more. If you or a loved one are ready to start your healing journey, contact us today at our treatment center.