Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. These disorders fill people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear.

Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as a business presentation or a first date, AD is chronic, relentless, and can grow progressively worse if not treated.

Anxiety Disorder And Alcohol Abuse

For people with AD, using alcohol and/or drugs can make anxiety symptoms worse and can even trigger panic attacks. Moreover, the risk and occurrence of alcohol abuse is high in people with anxiety disorders. This makes alcohol use an important issue to consider for people with anxiety disorders.

According to a major study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 20% of Americans with a current anxiety or mood disorder (such as depression ) also have a current alcohol or other substance abuse disorder, and about 20% of those also have a current anxiety or mood disorder.

People with anxiety disorders are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or drug abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population, and vice versa. However, the risk and frequency of alcohol abuse is more common among people with certain AD than others.

While having co-occurring alcohol/drug abuse and anxiety disorders can make an individual's situation more complex, the good news is that these disorders are treatable, separately and together.

Which Occurs First - Anxiety Disorder Or Alcohol Abuse?

Possible Reasons For Co-Occurring Conditions Include:

  • Alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders are independent of one another, meaning that one does not cause the development of the other. However, the symptoms of one can make the symptoms of the other worse.
  • An anxiety disorder leads an individual to use alcohol or other substances to "self-medicate," or attempt to alleviate their anxiety symptoms on their own, which does not help, and only makes their anxiety worse.
  • An alcohol or drug abuse problem causes heightened anxiety during certain periods of abuse, such as during the actual time of drinking or drugging and withdrawal states. Anxiety symptoms may be eliminated completely if substance abuse stops.
  • Substance abuse problems can lead to the development of a substance-induced AD. Substance abuse can also damage parts of the brain that keep anxiety in check.

Anxiety And Substance Abuse Disorder

Having both an anxiety disorder and substance abuse disorder can have a "vicious cycle" effect. For example, someone with an anxiety disorder may use alcohol and/or drugs to alleviate their anxiety symptoms.

However, this could cause them to experience even more anxiety which then leads to even more drinking and drugging.

Other Complications May Include The Following:

  • People with the co-occurring disorders are at high risk for many additional problems such as hospitalizations, financial problems, family problems, and medical illnesses.
  • People with both disorders may have lower treatment compliance than people with just one disorder.
  • People with both an anxiety and substance abuse disorder have an increased risk of relapse into alcohol and drug abuse than people who have a substance abuse problem without anxiety.
  • People with both disorders may be at an increased risk for experiencing dangerous interactions between prescription medication and alcohol (in the event that they relapse into alcohol abuse) than people with an anxiety disorder alone.
  • People with an anxiety disorder may have more pronounced substance abuse withdrawal symptoms than substance abusers without anxiety.
    Each AD has its own distinct features, but they are all bound together by the common theme of excessive, irrational fear and dread.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is much more than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. It's chronic and fills one's day with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it.

Having this disorder means always anticipating disaster, often worrying excessively about health, money, family, or work.

Sometimes, though, the source of the worry is hard to pinpoint. Simply the thought of getting through the day provokes anxiety. People with GAD can't seem to shake their concerns.

Their worries are accompanied by these physical symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches/tension
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trembling
  • Twitching
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes

Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects about 4 million adult Americans and about twice as many women as men. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age.

It is diagnosed when someone spends at least 6 months worrying excessively about a number of everyday problems.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is commonly treated with medications. GAD rarely occurs alone, however; it is usually accompanied by another anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse.

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Author's Bio: 

Robert Jakobsen is the founder of the RECOVERY NETWORK. A website dedicated to helping people recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Mr. Jakobsen has battled drug and alcohol addiction for 25-years and today he lives happy, joyous and free, one day at a time.

He has written (5) ebooks on recovery and has created a 12-Step VIDEO recovery program.