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The Link Between Addiction and Anxiety

The Link Between Anxiety and Addiction

Everybody at some point will experience periods of uncertainty and unease in their lives. This can lead to feelings of anxiety. Luckily for most people, these feelings are temporary and will recede with some simple breathing exercises and a re-evaluation of the problem that is causing them stress. However, this is not the case for everyone, as some people continue to experience the symptoms of anxiety, such as paranoia, fear, feeling uncomfortable in public and panic attacks to name just a few. In reality, anxiety expresses itself in many different ways with different people.

One group of people who seem to suffer anxiety at a higher rate than others are current and recovering drug addicts. There is a common misconception that it is the addiction to drugs itself that causes the anxiety. While substance use can definitely exacerbate both the root cause of the problem and the symptoms, there is no solid evidence to suggest that addiction is an actual cause of anxiety.

The trauma or root causes of the symptoms of anxiety can drive those with addictive type personalities to use substances as a form of “self- medication.” In this article, we will explore the link between these two different, but linked conditions.


The symptoms and trauma causing the symptoms are what make most addicts with anxiety turn to drugs in the first place. Due to the stigma attached to receiving treatment or therapy for mental health issues (particularly for men) many addicts, rather than go to a doctor, will use drugs like crack cocaine and heroin as well as a wide variety of other drugs to try to ignore or suppress these feelings.

While this may work in the early stages of addiction, addicts will quickly find out that drug use in no way helps to treat the symptoms, but merely gives them a temporary avenue of escape from their anxiety.  This, in turn, can make the symptoms worse and drive addicts to even deeper levels of substance use. In a way, this is a tragic indictment of how we regard mental health in the United States, where people feel more comfortable seeing a drug dealer to resolve their mental health issues than a doctor.


As addicts’ tolerance to whatever drug they regularly use begins to increase, they will often turn to either harder drugs or more of their drug of choice in order to avoid the symptoms of their anxiety. This will eventually result in them either struggling financially or having to resort to crime or other potentially hazardous activities to fund their habit. This leads most addicts to a crossroads in their lives.

The first path in this metaphorical crossroads is to simply continue using substances as a coping mechanism to deal with the symptoms of their anxiety. This will normally lead either to imprisonment, death, or hospitalization due to their continued addiction. While it is a bleak prospect, it has to be looked at realistically as a possible path for many deeply entrenched addicts, who are simply unwilling or unable to give up substance use completely.

The other path is the one that we should encourage addicts to explore, which is to admit they have a problem with both the anxiety they experience and their drug use and make a solid commitment to better their lives by changing their lifestyles.

How to Help?

Dealing with a loved one in this predicament can be an extremely upsetting and stressful time for both of you. Your natural instincts to protect and care for your friends and family will often lead to worry on your part, and fear of judgment on their part. Before exploring these routes with your addicted loved one, you must first accept that addicts cannot be forced to give up substance use and change their lives for the better. It is up to each person to recognize the problem and make a conscious and serious commitment to taking the necessary steps to resolve his or her anxiety issues and start the process of addiction recovery.

Ultimately, for many addicts suffering from anxiety, checking into a professional and reputable drug rehabilitation center with good success rates can be one of the most direct and timely ways to get an addict help. Many rehabs will also be equipped with qualified staff and resources to help addicts deal with their anxiety, using methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them recognize addictive behavioral patterns and learn healthy ways to deal with their negative emotions.

Ultimately, whether you decide on a residential rehab or more of a community-based rehabilitation program, professional help will more than likely be needed when dealing with an addict who also has anxiety.

The First Steps

The first step to take on the road to recovery is to get the addict to have a full and frank discussion with a local healthcare provider. Most physicians have some degree of training in addiction treatment and diagnosis. If they cannot provide you with integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, they should be able to refer your loved one or you to local services which can provide more targeted and comprehensive support.


In conclusion, there are many unhelpful myths surrounding anxiety, addiction and why these two conditions seem to be linked. The likelihood is that addicts in their acts of self-medication are displaying perfectly natural human behavior. We should recognize that it is easy for the unwary to cross the line between light relief following a demanding experience and the continuous craving for the instant relief that substances can seem to offer. That’s why loved ones who experience problems with addiction and anxiety may need your help to get on the path of healthy coping and recovery.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Brittany Wallace is the Content Manager for Clarity Thailand, a clinically proven addiction rehabilitation located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Photo by GoaShape on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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