Anxiety Disorders And Addiction

Understanding Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders comprise multiple mental health conditions that are characterized by excessive worrying, feelings of angst or uneasiness, and fear of the uncertainty of the future. Although symptoms of anxiety are normal in many circumstances and can stem from various physical and mental conditions, true anxiety disorders originate through psychosocial factors and in some cases, genetic predisposition. Most anxiety disorders are chronic, and can persist over a lifetime, but with effective treatment, the symptoms can be managed.

Anxiety disorder types include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (sometimes called social phobia)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Childhood Anxiety Disorders (e.g., Separation Anxiety Disorder)
  • Other specific phobias (e.g., fear of flying, claustrophobia, and arachnophobia)

Many of these share causes and symptoms, and they can occur simultaneously.

Signs And Symptoms

Although exact signs and symptoms vary based on the type of anxiety disorder and even the individual patient, the following are common themes that emerge with most anxiety disorders:

  • Worrying or obsessing over concerns, regardless of rationality or significance
  • Feeling restless or on edge, either constantly or in specific situations
  • Physical fatigue or muscle aches
  • Irritability, possibly situation-specific
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sweating, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or similar physical symptoms

Causes And Risk Factors

The mechanisms behind anxiety disorders are not completely understood, but some predictive and associated factors have been identified. These include:

  • A traumatic event (including traumas from many years past)
  • Having other anxiety disorders
  • A family history of anxiety disorders
  • Being female
  • Chronic stress
  • Natural chemical imbalances
  • Structural abnormalities in the brain
  • Abuse of certain drugs, alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine

Diagnosing Anxiety Disorders

Each anxiety disorder is diagnosed independently based on condition-specific criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV). However, most disorders are characterized by an unreasonable degree of chronic worry that impairs the individual's ability to function in specific situations or in general.

Anxiety Disorders And Addiction

Many patients who are treated at the UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program suffer from co-occurring anxiety disorders and addictions. Because the intensity of anxiety falls on a spectrum, some patients do not realize that they have a treatable condition and instead attempt to reduce their anxiety through the use of substances like alcohol, marijuana, or opiates. However, the anxiety quickly returns and leads to a self-treatment cycle that facilitates the development of addictions. In some cases, addiction can precede the anxiety; substance-induced anxiety can occur after using marijuana, bath salts, and many other legal or illegal drugs.


Depending on the condition and the patient's needs, treatment plans may involve prescription medications (such as SSRIs or benzodiazepines) and regular therapy sessions (including CBT and exposure therapy). When anxiety disorders and addictions occur simultaneously, they must be treated in tandem. At the UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program, treatment plans are developed in collaboration with each patient, to target the interplay of addiction, co-occurring conditions, and life circumstances unique to that patient. To set up an evaluation, contact the clinic today.