Anxiety and Addiction: Treatment Strategies and Recovery

Anxiety and Addiction

These disorders can make recovery more difficult.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders that addicted individuals and people in recovery experience. Every person with anxiety will experience it differently. But, there is a significant link between substance abuse and anxiety. Anxiety can contribute to substance use disorders, and vice versa, which can make symptoms worse and recovery more difficult.

First, to help you understand the connection between the two disorders and how they can be treated, we’ll go into more detail below about how anxiety and addiction fuel each other and what treatments researchers have found to be effective for both disorders.

If you’re struggling with anxiety and addiction, know that you’re not alone. Help is available now. Call (888) 857-0557 or contact us online to receive life-saving detox treatment today.

Related blog: Are You Addicted to Your Anxiety Medication?

It’s not uncommon for someone to have anxiety disorder and addiction problems. However, this is far from just a coincidence. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million American adults, ages 18 or older.1

On the same note, research shows people with anxiety are two to three times more likely to have a substance use disorder at some time in their lives than the general population. About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder. And about 20 percent of people with substance use disorders also have an anxiety or mood disorder.2

But, how does this happen? Research has revealed that there are three primary ways that people develop co-occurring anxiety and addiction:3

  1. People who have anxiety self-medicate, which can lead to addiction.
  2. People who abuse drugs or alcohol develop anxiety as a resulting side effect.
  3. Genetics or sensitivity to anxiety makes a person more likely to develop both disorders at some point in life.

What Types of Anxiety May Occur With Addiction?

Certain types of anxiety disorders can fuel addictive behaviors in different ways. For example, someone with social anxiety may abuse alcohol or drugs for different reasons than someone with PTSD.

First, let’s explore the different types of anxiety. Then, we’ll provide a brief explanation of how they can be related to addiction:

Social Anxiety Disorder

People who have social anxiety experience negative emotions like fear and self-consciousness in certain social situations. However, the symptoms are often severe enough to disrupt their everyday life and routine.4 As a result, people with social anxiety often abuse alcohol or drugs because they feel like it lessens their anxiety. However, it usually makes it worse in the long run.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

People with PTSD have intense thoughts and feelings related to a traumatic experience, even long after it has ended. Additionally, they might have flashbacks, nightmares, or feel extreme sadness, fear, or anger.5 As a result, people with this disorder often abuse drugs or alcohol to try to alleviate the symptoms. But, substance abuse can make it worse.

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder experience panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there isn’t any danger. Also, many people also have physical symptoms like difficulty breathing or dizziness.6 Alcohol or drug abuse can also cause panic attacks and substance abuse usually occurs before or at the same time as the onset of panic disorder. As a result, having a panic disorder is a relapse risk for addicted people.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD live in a constant state of worry, which can be extremely disruptive to everyday life. Often, people with GAD turn to alcohol or drugs to cope. But once the effects of the substances wear off, the anxiety is often worse.7

In some instances, chronic substance abuse may produce anxiety. But, in other cases, the anxiety may have already been there when the addiction developed. It’s difficult to know for certain, especially since addiction and anxiety disorders share some of the same risk factors. For example, a few shared risk factors include:

  • Family history of addiction and/or anxiety
  • History of trauma
  • Overexposure to stress
  • Other mental illnesses

How to Treat Anxiety and Drug Addiction

Addiction is a progressive disease that will get worse without treatment. As a result, an addicted person is also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the two disorders must both be addressed for a full recovery.

The first step of recovery is often detox and withdrawal. Without a clear mind, it will be difficult to cope with any type of anxiety disorder. So breaking your physical dependence on drugs or alcohol is a great place to start.

During drug and alcohol detox, certified doctors and nurses will administer medication to treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Anxiety is a common withdrawal symptom associated with many different substances, but the staff at a detox center will help you cope using a mixture of medication, individual counseling, and group counseling.

What are Strategies to Maintain Long-Term Recovery After Detox?

Research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatment methods for anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. Therefore, after detox, people use CBT in drug rehab to learn how to identify and change self-defeating thoughts that contribute to anxiety and addiction. Through an addiction treatment program, clients also use CBT to develop coping strategies that will help them maintain their sobriety and manage anxiety and stress.1

Also, it’s important to note that anxiety disorders are often tied to unresolved trauma, as is substance abuse. Consequently, certain types of therapy such as EMDR therapy have shown promise in treating anxiety and are intended to target the effects of trauma and help clients process these experiences.8 Moreover, some of the ways trauma-informed treatment in rehab can help clients include:

  • Helping them focus on staying sober
  • Empowering them to manage symptoms of their anxiety and substance use disorder
  • Reducing self-destructive behaviors
  • Encouraging clients to establish a more positive mindset and outlook on life

After rehab, staying connected with treatment professionals and sober peers can also help clients maintain long-lasting sobriety. In the same vein, sober living programs certified peer recovery programs, and community support groups all provide accountability, community, and support for people in recovery.

Related blog: Top Benefits of Enrolling in Rehab After Detox 

Get Help to Overcome Addiction and Anxiety

Above all, people with a dual diagnosis of anxiety and addiction need comprehensive and specialized treatment that adequately addresses both disorders. Often, a mixture of medication, behavioral therapies, and peer support is the most effective way to help clients stay sober after detox.

For example, a treatment program for anxiety and addiction usually starts with drug detox and includes several stages of treatment after that, including residential rehab, intensive outpatient treatment (IOP), sober living, and aftercare. Also, family therapy, 12-Step Program involvement, and other specialized therapies can help people overcome anxiety and addiction and live happily, fulfilled lives in recovery.

In conclusion, there are many different roads to recovery and no single solution is best for everyone. At Briarwood Detox Center, our professionals are dedicated to providing individualized treatment and support to help you get sober. We’ll help you establish a firm foundation in your sobriety so you can move on to the next phase of your treatment and recovery journey. When you’re ready, just call (888) 857-0557 to get started or contact us online.


  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353561
  2. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25188700

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