Addiction and Anxiety Disorders | Symptoms and Treatment

addiction and anxiety disorders

When you are experiencing an anxiety disorder, you may be tempted to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with your symptoms. Self-medicating, of course, only makes the situation worse. You are likely to also develop an addiction to those substances. Addiction and anxiety disorders occur together frequently and are often referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. Understanding the symptoms and treatment options for addiction and anxiety disorders can help you manage both for a successful recovery.

Co-Occurring Disorders

In 2018, 9.2 million adults in the US experienced a mental health disorder along with a substance use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It has been estimated that 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder have all been associated with substance use. 

Coping Strategies

To break the cycle of addiction and anxiety disorders, it is important that you learn strategies to self-regulate your anxiety symptoms as well as alternative coping strategies. Avoidance, a common coping strategy in anxiety disorders, may temporarily relieve anxiety symptoms but actually extends the anxiety, often causing significant impairments in functioning. Likewise, when you have an anxiety disorder and use alcohol and other substances as a coping mechanism to escape or avoid these unpleasant emotions, that only makes your symptoms worse.


There are many combinations of addiction and anxiety disorders that affect your particular symptoms. When you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may experience:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Developing a high tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
  • Feeling like you need a drug to be able to function.

Symptoms of a mental health condition can also vary greatly. Warnings signs, such as extreme mood changes, confused thinking or problems concentrating, avoiding friends and social activities and thoughts of suicide, may be reasons to seek help.

PTSD and Addiction

One form of anxiety disorder that co-occurs frequently with addiction is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People suffering from PTSD often use alcohol or drugs to try to ease their anxiety, but substance abuse can make your symptoms much worse. Many mental health professionals treat PTSD and substance abuse together because symptoms of PTSD, such as intrusive thoughts and sleep disturbance, can cause a substance abuse relapse.

Treatment Options

Anxiety disorders are challenging by themselves. When you combine addiction and anxiety disorders, your symptoms will be even more difficult to overcome. With the help of a professional treatment program, though, you can be successful in your recovery from both.

Treating substance abuse will not eliminate an anxiety disorder, so it’s usually necessary to treat both together, particularly to lessen the chance of relapse. Treatment options may include:

  • Psychotherapy: helps you learn how to cope without the use of substances. Therapies such as motivational interviewing can help you change your addictive behaviors. This type of therapy involves a mental health professional helping you determine whether substance use aligns with your goals, values and what “healthy living” means to you.
  • Inpatient rehabilitation: an option if you want to receive medical and mental health care 24/7. These centers offer therapy, support, medication, and health services.
  • Supportive housing: residential treatment centers designed to help you avoid relapse when you are newly in recovery.

When working with a professional to tailor your treatment plan, it’s important to keep in mind that the best treatment would integrate care for both diagnoses. Each condition should be considered primary and receive intervention at the same time.


At BRC Recovery, we are experts in the symptoms and treatment of co-occurring disorders. We work with you on your dual diagnosis to provide the substance abuse treatment and the psychological treatment that will help you move forward with your life. Our clinical team will tailor treatment to your specific needs, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorder. We are committed to holistic healing, understanding that real recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol takes more than just detox and abstinence.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have devoted our efforts to creating a safe, clean environment for our clients to continue receiving the highest quality of care. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery 1-866-291-2676 to speak to our team.