Research shows that substance abuse and anxiety often co-exist, and the presence of one disorder often contributes to the occurrence of the other. Anxiety is an all-consuming emotion that often leaves a person feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. Substance abuse can be isolating. The ramifications of these conditions existing at the same time can be extremely damaging. Anxiety and substance abuse are closely interconnected. Learn more about both conditions and how to get the help you need.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is more than just feeling nervous or stressed out; it is a complex emotional state characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, and apprehension. Anxiety is like having an overactive alarm system in your brain that constantly sends signals of danger, even when there may be none.

The symptoms of anxiety can vary from person to person but often include the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances

Some individuals may also experience panic attacks. Panic attacks are intense periods of overwhelming fear accompanied by physical symptoms. Anxiety disorders are not the same as feeling anxious sometimes, which is normal for everyone. Anxiety becomes problematic when it gets in the way of daily life and relationships.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • Panic disorder (PD)
  • Specific phobias

Each disorder has its unique set of symptoms and triggers. Feeling anxious is expected in some situations, but too much anxiety can harm well-being. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to other mental health issues, including depression and substance abuse problems.

The Connection Between Substance Abuse and Anxiety

When it comes to substance abuse and anxiety, there is a complex interplay between the two. It is common for individuals to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their feelings of anxiety. Substance abuse may provide temporary relief, but it can exacerbate those anxious thoughts and emotions in the long run.

The relationship between substance abuse and anxiety is not one-sided. Some people with anxiety disorders may be more likely to develop substance use disorders. Constantly battling anxious thoughts and worries can push someone to self-medicate for relief. There are several reasons substance abuse can increase feelings of anxiety.

Impact on Brain Chemistry

Certain substances, like stimulants or hallucinogens, can directly impact the brain’s chemistry. Altering the brain’s chemistry can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

Negative Consequences

Substance abuse can worsen anxiety by contributing to other negative consequences in one’s life. For example, spending money on drugs or alcohol can cause financial problems. These problems can make you feel more stressed and worried.

Constant State of Chronic Stress

Substance abuse tends to contribute to a state of chronic stress. The ongoing cycle of acquiring and using substances becomes all-consuming and can cause financial strain, relationship problems, legal issues, and other negative consequences. This constant stress further intensifies feelings of anxiety.

Sleep Issues

Sleep and anxiety also share a complex relationship. Substance abuse often leads to poor sleep quality or insomnia. Lack of restful sleep makes individuals more susceptible to experiencing anxious thoughts. It also impairs their ability to cope with stressors effectively.

Negative Impact on Physical Health

Long-term substance use can negatively impact overall physical health. Chronic drug or alcohol use weakens the immune system. It depletes essential nutrients necessary for optimal brain function. This weakened physical state adds an additional layer of vulnerability to anxiety symptoms.


People who try to stop using substances without professional help may have intense withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can cause heightened feelings of anxiety.

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Substance Use and Anxiety Disorders

Getting help for both substance use and anxiety disorders is essential for people with both issues. Only treating one condition increases the risk of relapse because both disorders contribute to one another. With the right approach, finding relief from both conditions and achieving a healthier, more fulfilling life is possible.

Remember that finding the right combination of treatments may take time. Each person’s journey toward recovery is unique. However, some typical options are important to explore.


One of the most effective treatment options for co-occurring substance use and anxiety disorders is therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns. These thought patterns contribute to both their substance abuse and anxiety symptoms. Other treatments, such as DBT, EMDR, or group sessions, may also help.


Sometimes, doctors prescribe medicine for symptoms of substance use or anxiety disorders. Medication for anxiety can lessen anxious feelings and stabilize your mood during recovery.

Support Groups

Participating in support groups tailored explicitly to individuals dealing with both substance abuse and anxiety can provide invaluable peer support. These groups offer a safe space to share experiences and gain insight.

Lifestyle Changes

Making positive lifestyle changes plays a crucial role in managing co-occurring disorders effectively. Therapy is a great place to discuss lifestyle changes that may help you. Lifestyle changes could involve adopting healthy habits such as:

  • Regular exercise
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Practicing stress-reducing techniques like meditation or yoga
  • Maintaining a balanced diet
  • Avoiding triggers that contribute to substance abuse or anxious thoughts

Treatment Centers Specializing in Dual Diagnosis

Getting professional help at treatment centers specializing in dual diagnosis can be very helpful. Experts staff these facilities, and they understand how to treat both issues simultaneously.

Find the Help You Need With CWC Recovery

Substance abuse and anxiety disorder share a deep connection. Anxiety can lead to substance abuse due to self-medication. However, substance abuse can worsen feelings of anxiety.
If you’re struggling with either disorder, finding the help you need is important. CWC Recovery is experienced in dual diagnosis treatment. We’re here to support you on your journey to recovery.

Get the help you need today.