Anxiety Disorder and Addiction


We all feel anxious or nervous in our daily lives, whether we’re making an important decision, taking a test, or facing problems at work. These are normal feelings. However, anxiety disorders involve more than just occasional worry. People with these illnesses feel constant dread that doesn’t simply disappear. It can get even worse over time, damaging relationships, and overall quality of life. When you combine anxiety and addiction, you have co-occurring disorders that can send you in a spiral.


More than 18 percent of adults in the U.S. have some form of clinical anxiety. This makes anxiety disorders the most common type of mental illness in the country. Addiction can make anxiety even worse, and vice versa. Harmony Ridge can provide you with dual diagnosis treatment.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety is an umbrella term for anxiety disorders, which are characterized by continuous and persistent fears that are usually irrational. Symptoms can be both psychological and physical.

Each anxiety disorder requires a multi-layered approach to treatment.

Causes of Anxiety

Causes of anxiety include:

  • History of trauma
  • Family history
  • Other mental health disorders
  • Overexposure to stress
  • Substance use disorder

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders


Some signs of anxiety include:

  • A general or specific fear that encompasses your life on most days of the week for six months or longer
  • Decline in quality of social activities, job performance, and relationships because of this fear
  • Inability to solve this fear despite continued attempts
  • Engaging in behaviors like overeating or substance use to ease this fear

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach pain

Is It Anxiety? Or Am I Just Worried?

As we mentioned earlier, it’s normal to feel nervous or anxious about an uncertain situation. We all feel this way from time to time. However, persistent anxiety is a cause for concern.

Since there isn’t a single test that diagnoses anxiety, doctors use a list of criteria. To meet this, you must consistently have symptoms on most days for at least six months.

Types of Anxiety Disorders


There are several types of anxiety disorders, each with their own unique symptoms.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

If you have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you have a sense of constant dread or excessive worry for at least six months. You’ll usually worry about everyday life circumstances, work, social interactions, and your personal health. The anxiety and fear that you feel can cause serious problems in your life.

Symptoms of GAD include:

  • Feeling on edge or wound up
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired easily
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to sleep

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develop symptoms after going through a traumatic event such as sexual assault, military combat, violent crime, or natural disaster. About 8 million people in the U.S. who have been through trauma will have symptoms of PTSD, which include:

  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Nightmares

Socialized Anxiety Disorder

Also known as social phobia, socialized anxiety disorder is centered around an irrational fear of interacting with people. People with this mental illness fear that others will negatively judge anything they say or do, which is why they avoid most social situations. Socialized anxiety disorder is common in the U.S., with more than 15 million people suffering from it.

People with social anxiety usually have a fear of the following:

  • Participating in social activities
  • Being in crowded places
  • Speaking in front of an audience

Socialized anxiety disorder can go hand in hand with panic disorder, which we’ll explain below.

Panic Disorder

If you have recurring episodes of uncontrollable terror or impending doom (known as panic attacks), you most likely have panic disorder. Although these episodes are short and not usually based on rational fear, they can have daunting side effects. Panic attacks consist of the following:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feelings of choking or shortness of breath

About 1 million people have panic attacks every year, with each episode lasting about 10 minutes. A common trigger of panic attacks is worrying about having one in public. This is why people with panic disorder tend to avoid places and situations that might cause them to have an episode. This constant worry can cause even bigger problems in their lives.

Phobia-Related Disorders

Phobias are crippling, irrational fears of situations, animals, or objects. Whereas people with aversions to objects might feel a little anxious, those with phobias will go out of their way to avoid the things they fear. Their feelings of fear probably aren’t as accurate as they think.

If people with phobias encounter their fears, they’ll feel intense anxiety. They’ll also go through situations they can’t avoid feeling this same anxiety.

Phobia-related disorders include:

  • Specific phobias: Common phobias are fear of flying, acrophobia (fear of heights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), claustrophobia (fear of crowded or tight spaces), and hemophobia (fear of blood).
  • Separation anxiety disorder: People with separation anxiety (both children and adults) fear being abandoned by the ones they love. They might have physical symptoms if someone close to them leaves, or they might have nightmares about someone they love leaving them.

How Does Addiction Develop?


You don’t develop an addiction to a behavior or substance overnight. It happens slowly over months or even years. You might start casually taking a substance and then realize that you’ve become dependent on it. Addiction is a debilitating disease that can take over your whole life.

Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety and Addiction

Many people with anxiety also suffer from addiction, and vice versa. About 4 million people have both an addiction and a mental health disorder, but sadly many of them don’t get treatment for either. Studies show that anxiety disorders are related to higher relapse rates after alcohol rehab, as well as higher lifetime rates of alcohol abuse. If you don’t get treatment for anxiety and addiction at the same time, you’re at a much higher risk for relapse.

Although it can be difficult to determine which co-occurring disorder came first, anxiety does cause addiction in many cases. People with an anxiety disorder can have debilitating symptoms, which causes them to turn to substances like drugs and alcohol for comfort. Self-medicating like this can turn into abuse and eventually addiction.

There are a few other reasons why people with anxiety might end up developing an addiction:

  • Genetic factors: If you have a family history of both anxiety and addiction, you are prone to having at least one of these disorders. These both can run in families.
  • Biochemical factors: Anxiety and addiction might be related to chemical imbalances in the brain. Low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates sleep and energy levels, are linked with mental health disorders like anxiety and substance abuse.
  • Withdrawal or other effects of substance abuse: Substance abuse can cause side effects and withdrawal symptoms that are similar to anxiety, like agitation and nervousness. These happen when the brain is trying to recover from the damage that substance abuse has done.

Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction


If you have co-occurring disorders, you can’t always tell whether anxiety or addiction developed first. This is why we strongly recommend dual diagnosis treatment. This ensures that people with co-occurring disorders will have both illnesses treated at the same time. Staff can determine the root cause of your addiction and mental health disorder. By receiving treatment for both, you’ll be in a much better place physically and mentally.

Facilities like Harmony Ridge in West Virginia are dedicated to providing dual diagnosis treatment to those in need. This is a multi-step process that depends on each patient who comes onto our campus.

If you’re suffering from both anxiety and addiction, you’ll need a program that can integrate treatment for both mental health and substance abuse. This will include detox, medication, and various types of therapy.


Sometimes we suggest medication for treating anxiety. Anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and beta-blockers are the most common meds for this purpose.

Anti-anxiety medications, also known as benzodiazepines, are sedatives that can make you sleepy. Examples of benzos are Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. However, you must be careful when taking benzos since they can be highly addictive. Make sure you take the correct dosage for the prescribed amount of time.

Antidepressants can also help alleviate anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft, Celexa, and Paxil are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, but they usually take a few weeks to work.

Beta-blockers usually treat high blood pressure, but they also can make physical anxiety symptoms like trembling and rapid heartbeat a little easier. They can also be used on an as-needed basis for reducing acute anxiety; however, they don’t treat social anxiety.

If you need medication, our specialists will decide the best course of treatment for you.


Although a mixture of individual, group and family therapy can help with a dual diagnosis, these aren’t the only methods available. Below is a list of other therapies that have high success rates for treating anxiety and addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps treat both anxiety and addiction, as well as other mental health disorders. CBT focuses on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about life situations and how they’ve affected your decision making. Your therapist will take any negative thoughts you’ve had that led to bad choices and make them into positive ones. When this happens, you’ll learn better ways of coping with tough times and achieve your potential.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

In EMDR, counselors and therapists help patients resolve past traumas by guiding them through several rapid eye movements. These make new informational connections that help clients resolve unprocessed memories. EMDR helps patients restore their faith in the future through positive thoughts and overcome emotional suffering from the past.

Support Groups

Joining a 12-step support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous after treatment will help you maintain your sobriety. You’ll talk with others who have shared your pain and struggles, and they’ll help keep you accountable too.

Find the Help You Need for Anxiety and Addiction Today


We know the difficulty of dealing with co-occurring disorders like anxiety and addiction. That’s why we offer comprehensive treatment for dual diagnosis patients. Don’t wait to seek help. Contact us today to speak with a representative and learn more about how we can help you.


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