How Generalized Anxiety Disorder Feeds Substance Abuse and Vise Versa

Everyone feels anxious sometimes. There is plenty in life to worry about – paying rent next month, saving for retirement, getting the promotion you want, or stressing about your schedule are all somewhat unpleasant aspects of life, but most people experience them to some degree. Generalized anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is a constant stream of anxiety. It is a disorder that produces worry in a person that manifests itself in both physiological and psychological ways. The disease can be the result of genetics and environmental factors. Some people have always suffered from generalized anxiety, and others begin to exhibit symptoms after puberty, or after a traumatic event.


Generalized anxiety disorder is a common condition in Florida and in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health has estimated that about 3.1% of adults in the United States were clinically suffering from generalized anxiety disorder within the last year. Many of the people suffering from the disorder experience the sometimes severe symptoms of the disorder but never seek out treatment, or even if they do seek treatment many are unable to get the treatment they need. This is due to many different factors. Psychotherapy is an expensive treatment and many people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder are unable to pay for the expenses necessary for Florida psychiatric services. The good news is that insurances are starting to wake up to the need for mental health coverage as well as substance abuse treatment coverage.


A significant number of those struggling with generalized anxiety disorder self medicate with drug or alcohol abuse. When a person struggles with a constant state of fear, anxiety, or dread, the possibility of even a moment’s relief from the symptoms can become too tempting and they may develop a drug or alcohol addiction. As they seek out ways to quell the panic that sometimes builds up with continuous anxiety and discover drugs that induce states of contentment and relaxation, among other alluring side effects, it would be easy for their problematic self soothing to become a dangerous, even life threatening medical problem.

Signs and Symptoms of Someone Suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder


  • Feelings of Fear and Dread – Generalized anxiety disorder produces a constant feeling of unease within its victims. Usually the feeling of dread is not justified in reality. To be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder someone must have a state of anxiety that lasts for over six months.
  • Constant Interweaving Anxiety – GAD creates a kind of anxiety that makes the person with the disorder float around from different sources of concern in their minds without a break for peace. There is always something to feel anxious about.
  • Insomnia – People with generalized anxiety disorder may have a hard time sleeping and develop insomnia. Because people with generalized anxiety disorder have a hard time shutting off the worry that plagues them, it can also be difficult to quiet the recurring thoughts in their brain. This can lead to an advanced form of insomnia which can, in itself, lead to other complications like memory loss, lessened brain function, clouded thinking, poor immune system, etc.
  • Can’t Sleep Through The Night – They may wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep. As stated above, people with generalized anxiety disorder suffer from a constant state of near panic so if woken in the middle of the night it is almost impossible to not allow those thoughts to creep in. Once someone is battling those thoughts it is hard to walk away from them and calm down to rest again. It is likely that the person struggled to get to sleep in the first place due to the same sorts of anxiety laden thoughts that haunt them in the middle of the night.
  • Exhaustion – People with generalized anxiety disorder will often feel extreme fatigue after long periods of anxiety. When someone experiences anxiety their body tenses. This is part of an animal instinct on the person’s part. Our lizard brain reacts to fear with fight or flight. When anxiety is overrunning a person’s life experience and they are experiencing these feelings of fight or flight regularly, the body may tense in an effort to be ready to flee the anxiety. After a while, though, a person’s muscles and bones, their physical body begins to protest. A body begins to get stiff, and the constant state of awareness exhausts the mind and the body. This combined with the insomnia many also suffer from and someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder is set up for heavy amounts of fatigue.
  • Shakiness Sometimes generalized anxiety disorder also causes people to shake. This could be due to the amount of adrenaline that anxiety can sometimes cause the body to release.
  • Stomach Problems – Some people who have GAD suffer from stomach aches or nausea as well as possible ulcers.
  • Other Physical Manifestations of GAD – As someone’s anxiety worsens they may experience heart palpitations, tremors, chest pain, even dizziness.
  • Irritability and Social Strain – A GAD sufferer may be irritable and experience great amounts of tension in their everyday interactions. Not getting a moment of peace can take a toll on someone’s everyday interactions with others. It is hard to stay cheerful and friendly when your brain is a constant stream of anxiety ridden thoughts and concerns.
  • Thoughts of Suicide – Some people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder may have suicidal ideation, or thoughts about killing themselves. If someone is considering suicide they should contact the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They are available 24/7.
  • Substance Abuse and Chemical Dependency – People with generalized anxiety disorder are at a higher risk than people without a mental health disorder, to develop a drug or alcohol addiction. When these two disorders exist in the same person at the same time it is called a dual diagnosis. This makes the person’s treatment more complicated because with a dual diagnosis, the person struggling with both generalized anxiety disorder and a chemical dependency on a drug or alcohol must seek out a treatment that includes useful consideration toward both their mental health issues as well as the addiction they have developed. If not treated simultaneously all efforts towards recovery will be futile as the two disorders will feed off of one another and ultimately continue to plague the person.


Causes and Risks Associated With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

No one really knows the reason someone comes to develop generalized anxiety disorder. Some people experience GAD as a chronic disease. For those people the mental health disorder begins in childhood or their teenage years, it often develops while the person is going through puberty, and continues on as they age into adulthood.


Here are some of the possible reasons someone develops the generalized anxiety disorder:


  • Genetic propensity – Generalized anxiety disorder is hereditary. If someone in their family suffers from GAD, then a person is far more likely to develop the disorder at some point in their lives.
  • Imbalanced brain chemistry – The Neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are naturally occurring chemicals in your brain that affect one’s emotional state and stability.
  • A background of trauma – If someone has experienced trauma in their past such as neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the loss of a loved one, trauma from war, or a natural disaster, they may develop generalized anxiety disorder as a kind of coping mechanism for survival tactic. Unfortunately, though the level of alertness that GAD provides may have been instrumental to person’s survival at some point, usually when a person’s anxiety is turned up in this way it is an unnecessary ailment that should be treated professionally otherwise someone suffering from GAD may end up trying to self medicate.
  • As a woman someone is twice as likely to develop or have generalized anxiety disorder than men are to have it.
  • Substance Abuse – Drug and alcohol use can make the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder worse and in some cases can even trigger the disorder in someone who hasn’t experienced the disorder already.

Treating A Dual Diagnosis


As stated previously, a dual diagnosis occurs when someone suffers from both a mental health disorder as well as a substance use disorder. It doesn’t matter which one started first, the two will feed off of each other, often causing symptoms to worsen for a person, until treatment is found. Generalized anxiety disorder has in the past at times been treated with sedatives or tranquilizers. This tendency is less common these days as doctors recognize the need for caution around addictive substances such as tranquilizers, with someone who suffers from a disorder like generalized anxiety disorder.


The proper way to treat a dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and generalized anxiety is to start with finding medical detox centers in Florida. The first step for the person seeking treatment is to remove the intoxicating substance from their body so that they can begin to heal both physically and emotionally from the toll that addiction has taken on their body.


During the rehabilitation stage of treatment, the patient will receive medical attention and therapies such as behavioral therapy to help them start to manage the general anxiety disorder medically if they so choose and to learn life skills to manage their anxiety. Patients will find the most comprehensive treatment  in a long term drug rehab. FHE Health offers a comfortable environment where patients can forget about everyday stress and focus on recovery. Call us today to learn about our rehab programs and how they can work for you.

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