Addiction never really runs its course to completion with one overriding factor. Certainly, genetic predisposition is at play, as well as childhood conditioning, trauma and any number of factors. Recently, researchers have been more robustly studying the connection between mental illnesses—including anxiety and depression—and the need to self-medicate that anxiety using non-prescribed medication and alcohol.

In fact, a summary of several studies found that:

Several epidemiologic studies conducted over the past 20 years consistently indicate that anxiety disorders and SUDs co-occur more commonly than would be expected by chance alone (B. F. Grant, Dawson, Stinson, et al., 2004Kessler et al., 1997Regier et al., 1990). The most recent and largest of these is the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NE-SARC) in which more than 43,000 adults were surveyed concerning psychiatric and SUDs (Grant, Dawson et al., 2004). Approximately 17.7% of respondents with a SUD in the past 12 months also met criteria for an independent (i.e., not attributed to withdrawal or intoxication) anxiety disorder, and 15% of those with any anxiety disorder in the past 12 months had at least one co-occurring SUD. 

What happens in the anxious mind

So what happens in the anxious mind that creates craving? Anxiety can be self-fulfilling. When anxiety begins to set in with someone suffering from a panic attack or simply has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the need to quell those feelings of panic and formless worry overrides our notions of correct self-care. 

While not all anxiety sufferers are addicts (or vice versa) the feelings of fear and the overstimulation of the amygdala (the “fight or flight” portion of the brain) can instill a sense of deep need within the sufferer. They may seek out alcohol as a traditionally and socially acceptable way to “blow off steam and relax” when all that will happen is a temporary dulling of the anxiety. Likewise, with anti-anxiety medication that is prescribed, though it may be helpful initially, anti-anxiety drugs must be used judiciously; far too many anxiety patients end up addicted to benzodiazepines when they believe themselves to be cured.

The reality of comorbidity and dual diagnosis

Without question, the suffering felt by those with chronic anxiety is real. Furthermore, there should be various modalities used to treat that anxiety. Fortunately, there are recovery centers that deal with both psychological issues and addiction simultaneously, as studies have shown time and again a link between psychiatric disorders and self-medication via drugs or alcohol.

Dual diagnosis allows a team of trained professionals in the fields of both psychiatry and addiction medicine the opportunity to work one-on-one with the patient in recovery to address both issues in a way that does not inhibit either the recovery from substances or from anxiety-provoking triggers, which lead to:

Physical Symptoms

-Rapid heartbeat


-Trouble breathing

-Tightness in the chest, chest pain -Dizziness

-Feeling: “Things aren’t real”

-Feeling: “I don’t feel like myself.” -Tingling and numbness in fingers, toes,

and other extremities -Nausea, vomiting

-Muscle tension

-Low energy, exhaustion -Changes in body temperature -Shaking, jitters

-The urgency to urinate or defecate -Changes in vision and other senses

Cognitive Symptoms


-Negative thoughts about one’s ability to

tolerate emotions or future stress -Negative predictions about future


-Other common thoughts:

“I am going crazy!”

“I am going to have a heart attack!” “I am going to faint.”

-Trouble concentrating or paying attention

-Magical ideas, phrases or images such as “If I do not wash my hands I will die or someone will be harmed.”

-Preoccupation with body sensations or functions

Behavioral Symptoms

-Avoidance of anything that provokes anxiety, including people, places, situations, objects, animals, thoughts, memories, body feelings, etc.

-Protective, “safety” behaviors

-Aggression, verbal abuse, lashing out 

-Alcohol and/or drug use

-Compulsive behaviors, such as excessive checking or other unreasonable or harmful rituals or routines

(From medicine.umich.edu2)

What to do

Without question, everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. But drug and alcohol abuse don’t have to be part of it. If you are looking to break free from the cyclical repetition of anxiety, substance abuse and the eventual shame that comes with it, look to a professional clinic such as True Recovery in Orange County. We specialize in dual-diagnosis treatment and can help you every step of the way as you begin to navigate life in a safer, more managed way.

If you are seeking a new way of life that can be happy, joyous and free, it’s time to find true recovery for yourself and those you love. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.