August 10, 2023 Addiction

Anxiety and Addiction: Breaking The Cycle

Anxiety and addiction are complex and interconnected phenomena that deeply impact individuals and society. Anxiety, a prevalent mental health disorder, manifests as excessive worry, fear, and unease, hindering one’s daily life.

To alleviate this fear, individuals might turn to addictive substances or behaviors, seeking temporary relief. However, this reliance on drugs or compulsive actions can lead to a vicious cycle of addiction, exacerbating anxiety symptoms and posing severe consequences for overall well-being.

Understanding the intricate relationship between anxiety and addiction is crucial in developing effective interventions that address both issues holistically, fostering healthier and more resilient communities.

Woman meditating by a pool. Text explains how holistic treatments can be used to treat anxiety and addiction.

Key Takeaways

Identifying triggers and developing coping skills tailored to individual anxiety patterns can aid in maintaining sobriety. Keep reading to learn:

  • Anxiety can contribute to addiction, as individuals may turn to substances or behaviors as coping mechanisms to alleviate distress.
  • Treating underlying anxiety can be essential in breaking the cycle of addiction.
  • Holistic approaches incorporating therapy and support groups can aid in managing anxiety and addiction simultaneously.

Contact Indiana Center for Recovery (844) 650-0064 for personalized dual diagnosis treatment services to achieve long-term sobriety.


Anxiety is a common emotional response characterized by unease, fear, or worry about future events. While occasional anxiety is normal and can motivate, excessive and persistent anxiety can lead to anxiety disorders. These mental health conditions involve irrational and overwhelming fear or worry, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Symptoms may include restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. In severe cases, panic attacks may occur, marked by intense fear and physical symptoms.


Addiction is a complex condition characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences. It encompasses substance addiction, behavioral addictions, and non-substance-related addictions like internet addiction.

Biological factors, such as genetics and brain neurobiology, play a significant role. Psychological factors, like coping mechanisms for emotional issues, also contribute.

Social factors, including environment and cultural norms, impact drug abuse development. The cycle of addiction involves reinforcement, conditioning, tolerance, and withdrawal, perpetuating the behavior.

The Cycle of Self-Medication

The cycle of self-medication refers to a pattern in which individuals attempt to address their physical or emotional health issues without seeking professional medical advice or supervision. Instead, they rely on self-prescribed medications, substances, or treatments. This behavior can lead to a repetitive cycle that may negatively affect their health and well-being.

The cycle typically follows these stages:

  • Onset of Symptoms: The individual experiences physical or psychological symptoms such as pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, or other health issues.
  • Self-Diagnosis: Instead of consulting a healthcare professional to diagnose the underlying cause of the symptoms accurately, the person attempts to diagnose themselves, often using internet sources or advice from friends and family members.
  • Self-Medication: After self-diagnosing, the individual engages in self-medication by taking over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, or even prescription medications obtained from others or online sources without proper medical guidance.
  • Temporary Relief: In some cases, self-medication may provide temporary relief from the symptoms, reinforcing the belief that self-treatment is effective.
  • Lack of Resolution: Since the root cause of the symptoms remains untreated, the underlying health issue continues to persist or worsen, leading to frustration and desperation.
  • Development of Side Effects or Dependency: Misusing medications or substances without proper guidance can result in adverse side effects or even lead to dependency and addiction.
  • New or Exacerbated Symptoms: As the self-medication approach fails to address the underlying problem adequately, new symptoms may arise, or existing ones may become more severe.
  • Realization and Restart: At some point, the individual may recognize that self-medication is ineffective and seek professional medical help.
  • Professional Intervention: Consulting a healthcare professional allows for a proper diagnosis and evidence-based treatment plan, which can lead to better health outcomes.
  • Temporary Relief and Relapse: After receiving professional treatment and experiencing temporary relief, some individuals may revert to self-medication during stress or when new symptoms arise, perpetuating the cycle.

Self-medication may seem like an easy and immediate solution, but it can be risky and may worsen underlying health conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to rely on the expertise of healthcare professionals to address health concerns effectively and safely.

Addictions Frequently Associated with Anxiety

The relationship between anxiety and addiction is bidirectional, as anxiety can contribute to addiction, and addiction can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a widely accessible and socially accepted substance that individuals with anxiety may turn to for temporary relief. Alcohol’s initial calming effects can temporarily alleviate anxiety symptoms, leading some individuals to rely on it as a form of self-medication.

However, prolonged alcohol use can lead to alcohol dependence, tolerance, and increased anxiety in the long run, creating a vicious cycle. Moreover, excessive alcohol consumption may disrupt brain chemistry, worsening anxiety symptoms and contributing to the development of anxiety disorders.

Drug Addiction

Drug addiction, whether involving illicit drugs or prescription medications, is another common issue among individuals with anxiety. Similar to alcohol, some people may use drugs to escape from distressing feelings or overwhelming fear.

Certain drugs, such as benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety, can lead to physical dependence and addiction if not used as directed. In addition, using illicit drugs can heighten anxiety, cause mood swings, and lead to anxiety disorders.

Behavioral Addiction

Beyond substance-related addictions, individuals with anxiety may also develop behavioral addictions as a way to cope with their emotional struggles. Behavioral addictions like gambling, gaming, or compulsive shopping temporarily relieve anxiety by releasing dopamine and endorphins.

However, these addictive behaviors can become maladaptive coping mechanisms, leading to negative consequences in various areas of life, including relationships, finances, and mental well-being.

Impact of Addiction and Anxiety

Addiction and anxiety are interconnected issues that can profoundly affect individuals across various aspects of their lives. These conditions can lead to severe consequences on personal, professional, and physical levels, exacerbating one another and creating a vicious cycle challenging to break free from.

Personal Impact

Addiction and anxiety can significantly impact an individual’s personal life, leading to strained relationships with family and friends. The struggle with SUD can lead to isolation, as individuals may withdraw from their loved ones to conceal their habits or due to feelings of shame and guilt.

Anxiety, on the other hand, can further intensify this isolation, making social interactions uncomfortable and overwhelming. The emotional toll of both conditions can lead to depression and a decreased quality of life. Individuals may experience a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, leading to a lack of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Professional Impact

The impact of addiction and anxiety on an individual’s professional life can be devastating. As addiction takes hold, productivity and focus at work often decline, leading to poor job performance and potential job loss.

The constant worry and fear associated with anxiety can hinder decision-making abilities and contribute to heightened stress levels in the workplace. This may lead to conflicts with colleagues or superiors, jeopardizing career prospects and advancement opportunities.

Additionally, absenteeism and a decline in work attendance may occur due to the debilitating effects of these conditions.

Physical Impact

Do not underestimate the toll of addiction and anxiety on physical health. Substance abuse associated with addiction can lead to serious health issues, including liver damage, cardiovascular problems, and weakened immune systems.

If left untreated, anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances, impacting overall well-being and making it even more challenging to cope with life’s demands.

Treatments for Addiction and Anxiety

Dealing with addiction and anxiety simultaneously can be a complex and challenging journey, but with the right approach, recovery is possible. An effective treatment plan should address both issues comprehensively to ensure lasting positive outcomes.

Here are some effective treatment options to treat co-occurring disorders.


Detoxification is often the first step in treating addiction, especially when substances like drugs or alcohol are involved. It involves ridding the body of toxic substances and managing withdrawal symptoms. The detox process can be particularly challenging for individuals with anxiety, as it may exacerbate their anxiety symptoms.

Therefore, a specialized detox program with mental health support is crucial. Medical professionals can administer medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms of drugs and alcohol abuse and ensure a safe and comfortable detoxification process.


Therapy plays a central role in addressing both addiction and anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used and evidence-based approach that can help individuals identify negative thought patterns and behaviors, allowing them to develop healthier coping strategies.

This therapy can also aid in managing anxiety triggers and reducing the risk of relapse. Other therapeutic techniques, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), may promote emotional regulation and self-awareness.


Medication can be essential to the treatment plan, particularly for individuals with co-occurring addiction and anxiety disorders. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers may be prescribed to manage anxiety symptoms and stabilize mood. It’s essential that a qualified psychiatrist or medical professional closely monitors the medication regimen to ensure its effectiveness and address any potential side effects.

Inpatient Treatment

Sometimes inpatient treatment may be necessary, especially for individuals with severe addiction and anxiety. Inpatient treatment offers a structured and supervised environment where individuals receive intensive therapy, medical care, and support around the clock.

This level of care can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with severe withdrawal symptoms or individuals whose home environments may hinder their recovery. Inpatient treatment provides a focused setting for individuals to address their addiction and anxiety comprehensively.

Support Groups

Participating in support groups can immensely benefit individuals dealing with addiction and anxiety. Support groups provide an understanding and safe space where individuals can share their experiences, struggles, and triumphs.

Mutual support and empathy among group members foster a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation. Twelve-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are widely available and have proven to be valuable resources in recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is substance abuse a symptom of anxiety?

Substance abuse can be a symptom of anxiety, as individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with overwhelming feelings. Self-medicating with substances can temporarily alleviate anxiety symptoms, but it often leads to a harmful cycle of addiction and worsens the underlying anxiety over time.
Seeking professional help and healthier coping mechanisms is essential for effectively managing anxiety and substance abuse disorder.

Can anxiety disorder cause addiction?

Anxiety disorder can lead to addiction. Individuals with anxiety may use substances like drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and temporarily alleviate their distress. This can create a dangerous pattern of reliance, as the temporary relief provided by substances can lead to addiction.
Addressing the root causes of anxiety through therapy and appropriate treatment is crucial to reducing the risk of developing substance use disorder.

How do I overcome my addiction and anxiety?

Overcoming addiction and anxiety requires a comprehensive approach.
Seek professional help, such as therapy or counseling, to address the underlying causes and develop healthier coping strategies.
Build a strong support system of friends and family, and consider joining support groups.
Practice mindfulness, exercise regularly, and maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Set small achievable goals and celebrate progress.
Be patient with yourself; recovery takes time and effort.