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Anxiety and Substance Abuse


There are many factors in life that may make certain people more susceptible to developing substance abuse disorders, ranging from mental disorders to uncontrollable circumstances. One thing that particularly raises the likelihood of an individual developing alcoholism or drug addiction is the presence of anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, panic disorder, or social anxiety. Many people turn to substances in order to alleviate the strain of living with these disorders, only to find out that the uncomfortable feelings are exacerbated when they try to stop using drugs or alcohol. There are non-narcotic methods of coping with these disorders, and these need to be maximized in today’s psychiatric environment.

Anxiety is a commonly heard word in everyday conversation, but feeling anxious about a big or stressful event is a far cry from living with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can make normal social interactions overwhelming to the point of experiencing paranoia, panic attacks, and turning to isolation. It makes it extremely difficult for people to develop connections with employers, friends, family, and significant others.

Unsurprisingly, as these symptoms are uncomfortable and inhibiting, many people who suffer from anxiety disorders turn to alcohol and drugs in order to relieve themselves of some of the stress that they experience on a daily basis. In fact, not only are people with anxiety disorders 2-3 times more likely to develop substance abuse disorders in their lives, they are also more likely to engage in substance abuse earlier in life.

For many living with these disorders, intoxication is a preferable way of life to the constant discomfort, and many who use substances seem to be able to break down their walls, feel connected, and find relaxation…but only until the drugs wear off, leaving them in the same space of isolation and misery that they were trying to escape. Unfortunately, this mentality often leads to an addictive cycle of using a drink or a pill to escape from a personal reality.

Therefore, it is important that professionals recognize the importance of using non-addictive substances for those who suffer from these mental conditions and become more proficient at treating dual-diagnosis patients. That is not to say that medication isn’t necessary sometimes; only that professionals need to exercise more caution when prescribing drugs to patients with anxiety disorders, given the likelihood of their patients developing addictions.

Many doctors prescribe benzodiazepines like candy to those suffering from anxiety disorders, instead of using non-narcotic methods and combinations, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and SSRIs. While the med option provides immediate relief at first, it can easily spiral into an addiction, leaving the suffering person in an even deeper pit. After all, the anxiety that they were trying to fix will only become worse with withdrawals from prescription medications and other drugs. If professionals focus more on alternative methods of treating anxiety disorders, they will be enabling people to manage their symptoms in a healthy and effective manner.

Anxiety disorders often seem impossible to live with, and many follow that feeling of hopelessness and discomfort into the arms of substances. However, the alternative options of dealing with anxiety not only lessen the risks of addiction, but teach people how to live their lives with whatever mental disorders they have. These disorders might make life more difficult to deal with than for the general population, but it is more than possible to live a healthy, manageable, happy life nonetheless.

Works Cited:

Faculty and Disclosures. “Anxiety and Substance Abuse.” Medscape Education. 2013. Web. 8 May 2013.

Pedersen, Traci. “Teens with Social Anxiety Engage in Earlier Alcohol, Marijuana Use.” Psych Central News. 8 May 2013. Web. 8 May 2013.

“Social Anxiety Disorder & Substance Abuse.” DARA Thailand, Drug and Alcohol Rehab Asia. 2011. Web. 8 May 2013.

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Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Conditions and Disorders, Mental Illness, Substance Abuse · Tags: anxiety, anxiety disorders, CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, SSRIs

  • Anonymous

    I have addiction issues, hardcore – and my doctor prescribes me clonapin for anxiety, a max of 3mg per day. If I’m having a panic attack, I’ll take 2mg. If I’m just managing basic anxiety, I’ll take 0.5mg. I don’t really have an addiction issue with benzos. I am able to control my use of them, and sometimes they help with serious anxiety or a panic attack. If I get caught somewhere without them, I have to learn how to cope with anxiety that might occur, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take them if they are helping me more than they are hurting me. I also take them to help me wind down and fall asleep at night. I’ll take 1-2mg for this. I’m not saying they are for everyone or that doctors shouldn’t be careful with them, but my present doctor was pretty reluctant to prescribe them to me in the first place given my addiction issues. (He said the authorities can get on their case about how much of a controlled substance they prescribe.) Before that, I had a doctor at a treatment center who titrated me off of ativan even though I was suffering from severe anxiety, and I didn’t recover until I went back on it even though I was receiving talk therapy and on at least one SSRI. My present doctor put me back on ativan because I clearly needed something stronger than buspar. My maximum dose for ativan has always been 3mg over the course of a day. Then he switched me from ativan to clonapin because it lasts longer.

  • Eli

    Luckily I got my benzos with me for my anxiety. is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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