anxiety and addiction

anxiety and addiction

The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, and everyone experiences it in life.​​​1 If someone has an anxiety disorder, though, then they will have anxiety more frequently or more intensely than others. Anxiety disorders can greatly interfere with someone’s life and well-being.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is the inability to stop using a substance or the inability to stop participating in an activity despite negative consequences.​​​2 Addiction to a substance such as drugs or alcohol is known as substance use disorder (SUD). A substance user will find it difficult to stop using that substance on their own. This may be due to their dependence formed on the substance, their mental health issues, or their struggle to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Substance users must seek help to recover.

How SUD Can Cause Anxiety

Anxiety and addiction often go hand in hand. Approximately 43% of individuals with SUD also show symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.​​​3 SUD can take a toll on one’s life as well as their mental health, and addiction causes panic for substance users as they feel the need to hide their addiction. Long-term drug abuse can also have a detrimental effect on someone’s mind and lead to the development of mental health problems such as anxiety.

How Anxiety Can Cause SUD


Trauma is one of the leading causes of anxiety, and traumatic events can impact one’s mental health for years. This impact is more severe if the trauma and associated anxiety go untreated. If someone is experiencing anxiety that stems from trauma, they may use substances to cope with these past issues.

Prescription Medication

Certain medications that treat anxiety also have addictive properties, especially if they’re misused or abused for a long period. Prescription medications such as Xanax or Gabapentin are common drugs used to treat severe anxiety. They can produce seemingly pleasurable euphoric effects when taken in higher doses, which can lead to patients taking more than prescribed and developing an addiction.


Anxiety and addiction are often interlinked due to self-medication. Someone who experiences anxiety may feel as though using substances calms them or helps them deal with the stresses of life. However, this is a slippery slope as self-medication often leads to someone feeling reliant on the substance.

How Successful Anxiety Treatment Reduces SUD

If someone receives a dual diagnosis of both SUD and anxiety, both conditions must be treated at the same time. If someone is using substances to self-medicate while struggling with anxiety, then treating anxiety will reduce reliance on that substance. Proper treatment of anxiety can reroute negative behaviors into more positive activities and coping mechanisms.

Anxiety Signs and Symptoms

Anxiety can seem invisible, but there are certain signs to show if someone is struggling with anxiety. Knowing the anxiety signs can make all the difference in getting someone the necessary help. Common anxiety symptoms may include:​​​4

  • Feeling nervous or restless
  • Increased sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feelings of danger or panic
  • Avoiding things that cause anxiety
  • Trembling
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid breathing

Looking through these anxiety symptoms can help you determine if you or someone you know is struggling with any of these anxiety symptoms.

Addiction Signs and Symptoms

It can be hard to tell if someone is struggling with addiction because they may try to cover it up. It’s important to know the symptoms of addiction so someone struggling can receive the necessary help. Common addiction symptoms may include:​​​5

  • Continued use of substances despite negative consequences
  • Being unable to quit substance use
  • Obsession over the substance
  • Acting irrationally
  • Being withdrawn from normal activities
  • Secrecy and solitude
  • Financial problems

If you feel like you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction, take a moment to check with them and see how they’re doing. Anyone struggling must get the help and support needed to recover.

Anxiety Medication with Addiction Risks

Gabapentin for Anxiety (Anticonvulsant)

Gabapentin helps anxiety because it reduces the level of excitement within the brain.​​​6 This can manage an anxiety disorder since those who struggle with anxiety usually have higher than normal levels of excitement in the brain, causing them to be more sensitive to the environment around them. Gabapentin provides a calming effect that helps individuals learn to cope with the normal stresses of life.

However, the calming effect produced from medications like Gabapentin is also why they have a risk for addiction. When taken in higher doses, it can produce a pleasurable, euphoric effect that makes people want to use it recreationally. Long-term abuse of this drug will lead to dependence.

Xanax for Anxiety (Benzodiazepine)

Xanax is another short-term treatment. Xanax is one of the more commonly prescribed anxiety medications.​​​7 This drug calms the brain and central nervous system. Even though Xanax is a commonly prescribed anxiety medication, it does come with a high risk for addiction. Xanax is only recommended as a short-term anxiety treatment since long-term use will cause dependence. When taken in higher doses, Xanax will produce a calming effect that can lead to abuse, addiction, and negative consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Anxiety and Addiction

CBT for Anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form of therapy for anxiety. CBT can help you learn how to manage anxiety. Behavioral therapy will provide you with coping mechanisms to handle the everyday stresses of life. Therapy can also help you find and treat any underlying issues that may be causing anxiety.


If you’re looking to end an addiction, there will be a necessary detox process. While you will experience withdrawal symptoms during detoxification, treatment centers can help make this process as comfortable as possible. Going to a treatment center to detox is important so that you stay safe and get the needed medical attention.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient addiction treatment is when you stay at a treatment center for a duration of time while detoxing and going through a recovery program. Inpatient treatment will allow you to live in a structured and supportive environment with around-the-clock support. This can lower temptations and ease the recovery process.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment allows you to continue living at home while receiving treatment for anxiety and addiction. This can be a good option for those experiencing less severe symptoms or those who need to keep up with work or family responsibilities. Outpatient treatment requires commitment, as this option obliges you to check into the treatment center at designated times and manage temptations at home.

Anxiety Medication Used in Addiction Treatment

Clonidine for Anxiety (Central alpha agonist)

Clonidine helps with anxiety by stabilizing parts of the brain and lowering excitement levels. Since withdrawal can often increase anxiety and cause panic attacks, medication like Clonidine can have a calming effect and make the recovery process easier.

Propranolol for Anxiety (Beta blocker)

Propranolol helps with anxiety by blocking the adrenaline and noradrenaline chemicals produced in the brain when someone is experiencing anxiety. This reduces the physical effects that someone would go through during an anxiety attack. The withdrawal process is very stressful and can raise anxiety levels. Medication like propranolol eases the anxiety symptoms and smooths the recovery process.

Coping Skills for Anxiety

Developing coping skills for anxiety is an important part of the treatment process. Habits like exercising, eating healthy, and meditating are great ways to calm the body and mind.

Holistic Anxiety Relief


Meditation and deep breathing techniques center the body and mind. This can have a calming effect that benefits those who struggle with anxiety.


Yoga is a physical and meditative activity that calms the body and mind. Yoga can help activate the body and positively refocus the mind.

Nutritional Anxiety Relief

Avoiding Caffeine

Since anxiety is associated with high levels of excitement in the brain, avoiding stimulants like caffeine is beneficial for those with anxiety. Rather than drinking coffee, aim to get enough sleep at night so you feel energized and ready for the day. This will keep both your body and mind healthy and anxiety levels low.

Eating a Healthy Diet

A healthy body will lead to a healthy mind. Eating the right foods will give natural energy and focus throughout the day. This keeps the mind attentive and calm and ultimately leads to less anxiety.

Best Foods for Anxiety Relief

Some of the best foods for anxiety relief are:


  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Yogurt
  • Turkey
  • Vegetables

When eating to help with anxiety relief, it’s important to eat balanced meals filled with nutrient-dense foods.

Overcoming Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction can often go hand in hand. These disorders negatively affect one’s life, so it’s important that both conditions are treated at the same time to get the best results. If you’re struggling with anxiety and addiction, you can overcome it. Talking to a medical professional or going to a treatment center is the first step.


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