Using Drugs to Relieve Anxiety Increases Risk for Addictions

Using Drugs to Relieve Anxiety Increases Risk for Addictions

Some people use drugs and alcohol as a way to relieve anxiety, depression, anger, and other unwanted feelings. This is called “self-medication,” and now a new study indicates that people who self-medicate this way are more likely to develop substance abuse disorders.

Jennifer Robinson of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism surveyed 34,653 American adults, and classified them into three groups: those who do not self-medicate, those who use alcohol only, and those who use drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs to self-medicate.

Those who self-medicated had higher incidences of anxiety disorders such as panic disorders, social phobias, phobias, and generalized anxiety disorders. For example, among those who self-medicated with drugs, 8% had panic disorders and 14% had specific phobias. Over 12% of those who self-medicated with alcohol and had symptoms of an anxiety disorder developed an alcohol abuse disorder later in life. This compared to the 4.7% who developed a problem with alcohol but had no histories of self-medication.

“Given the high percentage of incident substance use disorders and social phobia that can be attributed to self-medication, the reduction of self-medicating behavior may lead to a significant decrease in incident comorbidities in the general population. These results not only clarify several pathways that may lead to the development of comorbidity but also indicate at-risk populations and suggest potential points of intervention in the treatment of comorbidity,” according to the report published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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