Treatment navigators are ready to guide you. Take the first step and call:


How Anxiety Leads to Drug Abuse

Around 20% of people diagnosed with an anxiety disorder also struggle with substance abuse. Here is all the info you need on how anxiety leads to drug abuse.

Take the first step toward recovery:

Table of Contents

Related Information
Questions about treatment?
Get 24/7 confidential help now:
We accept most insurances

What is Anxiety

Anxiety is a word that, on its own, has to cover a wide variety of mental health conditions and symptoms that negatively impact millions of people all over the world. In fact, a report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in their 2017 Global Burden of Disease study showed that a staggering 284 million people worldwide suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

While most people understand the general concept of anxiety, the actual symptoms and effects it can have on people’s lives may surprise some. This extends to the connection between anxiety and drug abuse.

Recovery is always possible for those struggling with an anxiety disorder. However, it is important to understand the full scope of the disorder and how many turn to drug abuse because of their symptoms. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 20 percent of people that have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder also struggle with some kind of substance abuse.

The difficulty in understanding the correlation between anxiety and substance abuse comes in when trying to figure out whether it is anxiety that has caused the substance abuse or the substance abuse side effects that increased the anxiety symptoms. Distinguishing between the two can be incredibly difficult.

Anxiety and Drug Abuse

There are many different anxiety disorders, and each comes with its own signs, symptoms, and difficulties. In general, however, all individuals suffering from anxiety will feel elevated levels of worry, dread, and stress. People who suffer from anxiety could turn to alcohol or drugs in an effort to calm their nerves, make themselves feel more comfortable, and dull the extreme symptoms that they feel in their day-to-day lives.

This temporary relief from anxiety symptoms is often what drives people to keep taking the substance. Unfortunately, this increases in amount and frequency over time as their body becomes more tolerant and needs more of the substance, more often in order to continue numbing their symptoms.

While this self-medicating may put taxing symptoms on hold for a short time, the continued use of drugs and alcohol as a means of escaping reality often leads to addiction.

The problem is that sometimes it is actually the abuse of drugs and alcohol that can lead to anxiety disorders. When someone is addicted to a substance (even if they aren’t aware of it) they may experience severe anxiety during their sober intervals.

Unfortunately, withdrawal-related anxiety symptoms often lead to worsened anxiety symptoms, increased substance use, and can even affect the electrical connections and chemicals in the brain. 

It is entirely possible for someone to develop a drug- or substance-induced anxiety disorder or an anxiety-induced substance abuse disorder.

Substance Abuse on Anxiety Symptoms

Whether substance abuse has resulted in symptoms of anxiety or substance abuse occurs as a means to numb the symptoms of anxiety, the effects of substance use on the psychological symptoms of anxiety are immense.

Many individuals will develop a substance use and anxiety disorder separately, but the combination of the two can take a massive toll on one’s physical and mental health. These are the most common substances used by individuals in conjunction with an anxiety disorder.


Alcohol is used all over the world as a crutch for unwinding after a stressful day and a glass of beer or wine to calm the nerves is completely acceptable. However, people with anxiety are likely to drink a larger volume of alcohol in order to manage their excessive anxiety symptoms, even after what many people would not consider a stressful day.

As their tolerance builds up, they will need more and more alcohol to achieve the same numbing effects that their body has become used to. However, if the individual decides to stop drinking, then they could struggle with alcohol withdrawal, of which anxiety is one of the most common symptoms.

Alcohol has an actual chemical effect on the body and frequent, heavy drinking can result in a chemical imbalance. This imbalance can greatly contribute to mental struggles and causes many people to feel high levels of anxiety when they are hungover or sober, which tends to push them to drink again to get rid of the feeling.


Marijuana is undoubtedly one of the most commonly used drugs by people suffering from a variety of anxiety disorders. People with an anxiety disorder are anxious, worried, or have a feeling of dread about many circumstances in their life, such as work, school, or relationships. They may turn to marijuana to suppress and calm these stressful emotions.

Marijuana offers temporary relief for anxiety symptoms, but these feelings of euphoria are only short-term, and as soon as the high wears off, the feelings of anxiety return. This is what leads to the heavy, recurring use of marijuana in those with anxiety.

However, marijuana also creates an imbalance in chemical makeup within the body and this often leads to the individual experiencing extreme negative feelings and anxiety as soon as they are sober.

In order to correct this chemical imbalance, they will use the substance again. Of course, there have also been conclusive studies done that indicate a link between high marijuana use and feelings of paranoia and even psychosis.


Stimulants work in such a way that they excite the central nervous system to the extent that it releases chemicals to send faster messages throughout the nerves and body. The body’s reaction to stimulants often results in users feeling on edge and anxious. Of course, prescription stimulants are given to children, teens, and adults to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.

Many children actually develop some kind of anxiety disorder after taking their prescription meds from a young age, for a long period of time.

Unfortunately, many students and employees take these stimulants to help them study, stay up late, work longer hours, and prevent drowsiness. This is an extremely addictive cycle that often leads to more stress by stimulating anxiety symptoms in the body.

Treating Co-Occurring Anxiety & Substance Abuse Disorders

People with untreated mental health disorders like anxiety are more likely to turn to substances as a way to temporarily assuage their anxiety symptoms. However, certain substances can also alter the brain’s chemistry and cause anxiety in individuals that have a substance abuse disorder.

As with all co-occurring disorders, they complicate each other. If only one of the disorders is treated, then there is a possibility it will return. For example, if the medical and psychological side of substance abuse is treated without the anxiety being treated, the individual has a high chance of turning back to drugs or alcohol once their anxiety symptoms return.

To effectively recover from both disorders, they need to be treated simultaneously by a medical professional. The best kind of treatment plan will focus on both issues and integrate a holistic, effective program that has the least chance of relapse.

If you or a loved one need help with a substance abuse problem, mental health disorder, or both, Addiction Rehab Treatment can be of assistance. We have the experienced, qualified staff and world-class facilities available to successfully treat mental health disorders and co-occurring substance abuse. Get in touch with us about our treatment plans and the next steps on the road to recovery. We look forward to helping you on the road to recovery!

Get Help Today

Don’t go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you’re facing. Get in touch with one today:


Get a Call

Enter your phone number below to request a call from a Treatment Navigator: