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The Connection Between Anxiety And Addiction

Learn about the connection between anxiety and addiction and how to recover from both effectively here.

Table of Contents

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is often a healthy and normal release of emotion; however, persistent, high levels of anxiety are indicative of a real health concern. The positive aspects of anxiety help keep people alert, careful, and cautious. Anxiety is crucial for survival until it keeps you up at night, making it difficult to pay attention to and carry on with daily activities.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety vary between individuals as the body responds to fear and stress in different ways. The following includes common symptoms of anxiety:
  • The feeling of panic, danger, or dread
  • Restlessness, nervousness, or feeling tense
  • Hyperventilation, rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle twitching or trembling
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Excessive or increased sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty thinking straight or having a clear mind
  • Constantly avoiding activities that could cause anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal issues like constipation, gas, or diarrhea
  • Addicted to specific behaviors
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders make up several distinct disorders, affecting approximately 40 million people aged eighteen and above in the United States annually.1
Types of anxiety disorders will be detailed below.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is characterized by sudden feelings of heightened distress and fear, and it involves at least three of the symptoms listed below:
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Palpitations
  • Choking sensation
  • Smothering
  • Gastrointestinal problems or nausea
  • Tightened chest or chest pains
  • Feeling cold or hot
  • Feeling faint, light-headed, or dizzy
  • Derealization, feeling detached from reality,
  • Paresthesia, tingling or numbness sensation
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Individuals with GAD suffer regular feelings of worry and anxiety about events or activities, which include their ordinary routine. The level of worry and anxiety is often excessive compared to the reality of the situation. GAD can also cause physical symptoms, such as stomach upset, headaches, and insomnia.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an anxiety disorder that makes people experience recurring unwanted sensations, ideas, or thoughts that drive them to repeat various activities. These compulsive activities may include cleaning, washing hands, and checking if doors are locked.

Social Phobia

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, causes acute feelings of fear in public settings. Individuals with this disorder find it difficult to communicate with others, attend social gatherings, and meet new people, and they are often scared of being scrutinized or judged by others. Social anxiety disorder is prevalent in 5% to 10% of the population, with 8.4% to 15% of people experiencing the disorder at some point in their lives.2
Those with social anxiety disorder are generally aware that their extreme feelings of fear are unreasonable, but they can’t control or overcome them. One of the social phobia’s characteristics is extreme shyness, resulting in stage fright.

The Connection Between Anxiety and Addiction

Anxiety and addiction are linked in several ways. Some people may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms of anxiety, resulting in dependence and addiction. Others may develop anxiety from their addiction, as side effects of many substances can cause anxiety disorder symptoms.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis means having two conditions simultaneously, usually characterized by a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, such as social anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder. These conditions are common as an average amount of people with an anxiety disorder also suffer from addiction and vice versa.

One study examining the onset of substance dependence and anxiety disorders found that substance dependence occurred prior to anxiety disorders far more often than anxiety disorders developing before substance dependence. 

For instance, data shows that 80.16% of participants developed drug dependence before the onset of panic disorder, 71.84% developed drug dependence before generalized anxiety disorder, and 67.24% developed drug dependence before agoraphobia.3

Why Anxiety May Trigger the Need to Misuse Substances or Vice Versa

The following are the motives why anxiety might trigger substance abuse or why substance abuse may trigger anxiety:
  • Self-Managing Symptoms: Although self-management assists individuals with long-term health conditions and their symptoms, it can sometimes lead to misusing prescription medications as an attempt to improve symptoms. Self-medicating can also include substances like alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamine.
  • Biochemical Factors: Biochemical factors of anxiety and addiction involve the levels and regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, unbalanced levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are associated with anxiety. 
  • Genetic Predisposition: Anxiety and substance abuse in an individual can result from genetic predisposition, especially when the parents once experienced such cases.
  • Effects of Substance Abuse or Withdrawal: Patients with interrupted mental health treatment may turn to drug use to partially calm their symptoms. Drugs and alcohol have a chemical influence on the brain, which results in increased anxiety disorder symptoms with substance abuse disorder.

Common Substances Associated With Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety can cause feelings of panic, restlessness, and nervousness when not in danger. Symptoms of anxiety can sometimes surface due to prescription medications for other medical issues or illicit drugs for recreational use. These substances can either increase existing anxiety or develop new anxiety symptoms. 

Here are the common substances linked to anxiety disorder:


Benzodiazepines (BDZ, BZD, BZs), also called blues or benzos, are a group of psychoactive substances doctors prescribe to manage conditions like insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. However, when abused, it causes severe anxiety disorder.


Multiple studies have shown a link between anxiety disorder symptoms and cocaine. These symptoms often surface during excessive cocaine usage or withdrawal, with evidence showing that cocaine usage leads to panic disorders.


Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a well-known link to anxiety. The use of meth reportedly causes havoc on mental health and disrupts numerous functions in the body, such as cognitive function.
Because meth un-balances hormones and mood and disrupts brain activities, anxiety is a common symptom of meth use and withdrawal. One study found that 34.3% of patients reported anxiety symptoms during one week of abstinence from methamphetamine.4


Excessive use of marijuana aids the rapid increase of anxiety disorder and other long-term health issues like memory loss and cognition issues.


Alcohol influences serotonin levels, which could worsen anxiety. Anxiety tends to increase even after excessive consumption of alcohol, which could persist for long hours.


Anxiety is a typical reaction to stimulants, which can worsen existing anxiety symptoms.

Treatment Options for Anxiety and Addiction

Below are the possible treatment options for anxiety and addiction.


Detoxification is one of the most effective treatments for addiction and anxiety disorders. The detox process involves allowing the body to eliminate toxins and harmful substances from the body through abstaining from the substance of abuse.
Serious withdrawal effects can occur during this process, such as strong cravings, heightened anxiety, and depression, so it is always recommended to detox at a medical facility to ensure safety.

Residential or Inpatient Rehab

Residential or inpatient rehab services involve continuous stay at a treatment facility, offering twenty-four-seven care and supervision. Underlying behavioral or psychological problems are effectively handled and managed through intensive management, support, and evaluation from professional medical experts.

Outpatient Treatment

Through outpatient treatment procedures, patients receive treatment and support from professional health personnel in a less-intensive manner compared to inpatient programs. Outpatient care allows patients to live at home while receiving treatment at the facility.

Family Therapy

Family therapy aids communication and helps resolve conflicts among family members of patients with anxiety and addiction. This type of therapy is often delivered by a licensed therapist, clinical social worker, or psychologist.

12-Step Programs

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous formed the program to create procedures to help combat alcohol addiction. Those procedures are known as the 12 Steps and are now key foundations to a variety of programs to help people successfully overcome addiction.

Equine-Assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted therapy covers a series of treatments that involve horses to improve human mental and physical health.

Aftercare and Support

Intensive outpatient or inpatient rehab services, aftercare, and support programs are essential for patients in recovery from anxiety and addiction. Aftercare, also referred to as continuing care, provides continued support and therapy after completing initial treatment.

Tips to Control Anxiety When You’re Recovering From Addiction

The following are essential guidelines you need to control anxiety when recovering from addiction.

Take Deep Breaths

Taking deep breaths at regular intervals helps combat anxiety, especially when recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. It is an effective method to help ease stress.

Ground Yourself

Grounding yourself means finding stability and being conscious in the present by preventing derailing or overwhelming thoughts. It symbolizes strength and stability, sometimes involving deep meditation to help you find your inner self.


Exercise improves your mental and physical health. Consider participating in activities like jogging, dancing, swimming, running, etc.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep helps the brain relax and aids proper brain function. A healthy sleeping routine helps improve memory, learning, creativity, and decision-making while reducing stress and symptoms of anxiety.

Reduce Caffeine Intake

Though caffeine is mainly consumed to boost energy, too much of this substance can increase anxiety and stress-related symptoms. Therefore, consider reducing your caffeine consumption.

Client-Specific Treatment Opportunities

Consider getting access to client-specific treatment opportunities, as it aids individuals’ capacity for healthy adjustment, self-actualization, and recognizing their innermost potential.

Get Help With Ripple Ranch Recovery

Do not give up on your journey to a life free from anxiety and addiction. At Ripple Ranch Recovery, we help people achieve their health aspirations through evidence-based and holistic treatments specially curated for their needs. 

Contact us at Ripple Ranch Recovery today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you begin your journey to a higher quality of life.