Anxiety and Substance Abuse Among Women

By June 18, 2021July 19th, 2021Addiction Treatment
anxiety and substance abuse

There are several clear connections between anxiety and substance abuse among women. When these two disorders are combined, it’s considered a co-occurring disorder and requires a more holistic treatment.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the connection between anxiety and substance abuse among women.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse Among Women

Life can be overwhelming and leave you feeling like you can’t keep your head above water. In fact, some days it may feel like you are drowning. There are work demands, responsibilities at home, relationships to nurture, problems to solve, bills to pay – the list is endless.

And you are supposed to hold it all together as if it were simple and easy, right? It’s no wonder so many women find themselves filled with anxiety. And there is even a special class of anxiety called high functioning anxiety, for those women who can deal with their anxiety while accomplishing all that they have to in their lives. 

Let’s be real, though – anxiety is disruptive and unpleasant. It can cause so many women to want to run away from life, or escape. And that’s when substance abuse often enters the picture. 

Here’s what you need to know about anxiety and substance abuse among women.

What is Anxiety?

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety is experienced by 40 million people in the U.S. in any given year – and nearly 20% of the female population! 

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. It is a normal part of living, such as worrying about getting bills paid on time or making it to your kid’s baseball game before he is too late. We may find it hard to breathe and our heart rate may increase, but it’s a normal reaction to the present circumstances. 

Dealing with anxiety all the time in life is a bit different. When you have intense worry or fear about things outside of your control on a daily basis, this may be better classified as an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety can easily steal your joy — leaving you searching for new ways to rid yourself of it. 

Symptoms of Anxiety

There are many symptoms of anxiety, but not everyone experiences each symptom. Some are more severe – and more troublesome – than others. Below is a list of the most common anxiety symptoms: 

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Tense feelings
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Feeling a sense of impending doom
  • Feeling weak and tired

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders may present themselves in various ways. Maybe you are fine with working and handling daily life but have a crippling fear every time you have to leave the house or interact socially. There are types of anxiety disorders that affect only portions of life. Here are a few of the most common. 

Agoraphobia: This is the irrational fear and avoidance of places or situations that may leave you feeling trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. Examples would be traveling on an airplane, standing in a line, being in a crowded concert, etc. For some, everywhere begins to feel unsafe, and never leaving home seems like the most logical explanation. 

Social Anxiety Disorder: Just as its name suggests, this disorder involves high levels of anxiety and the avoidance of social situations. This is often due to feelings of embarrassment, being judged negatively by others, or being overly self-conscious. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This is of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders and it includes persistent, excessive worrying about everything.

Unfortunately, even though these anxiety disorders may only impact a part of your life, you may still find yourself seeking something to get through them — and that something is often a substance. 

How Anxiety Affects Women, Specifically

Anxiety disorders are more common among women. Why is that? Well, women are unique and more susceptible to anxiety. For instance: 

  • Anxiety disorders come as a result of our fight or flight response. This response in women lasts longer than that of men. This means there is a great chance for an anxiety disorder to take hold. 
  • Women have a lot of hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause that can cause great shifts in hormones – which have been linked to anxiety. 
  • Victims of sexual and physical abuse tend to experience higher levels of anxiety. Most of these victims are women. 

Anxiety and Substance Abuse: What’s the Connection?

It has long been questioned whether anxiety or substance abuse comes first. 

Many women will be faced with irrational worry and fear and find life hard to manage. As a result, they turn to a substance of choice to help cope and get through the day. This even includes medications prescribed by doctors to help with anxiety. The reason addiction takes root is because these medications are incredibly effective. However, only for a short time, and only for as long as you continue using them. However, making this part of your regular routine can quickly lead to addiction as one becomes dependent on the substance to manage the anxiety. Long term, using medications as a solution tends to only make the anxiety worse.

Others find themselves happy-go-lucky without a worry or fear in the world. They begin using drugs or alcohol (socially, even) and find themselves with a bunch of anxiety dumped in their lap. This may be a reaction or side effect from the drugs or even a withdrawal symptom. The result – substance/medication-induced anxiety – is often that more of the drugs or alcohol is consumed to help battle the feelings of anxiety — and a vicious cycle is formed. 

Seeking Treatment for Both

If you suffer from anxiety, then seeking treatment for substance abuse needs to also include treatment for anxiety. A dual diagnosis, holistic treatment facility will be able to address the root of both conditions and work on helping you overcome them. Focusing on one or the other without paying attention to the connection between them will not work. 

Dual diagnosis treatment programs will give you insight on how your anxiety and substance use are related to one another by digging deep into both. For instance, this type of treatment will allow you to get to the root cause of your anxiety while learning coping skills to get through it – rather than turning toward a substance. And, it will allow you to get to the root cause of your substance abuse. 

Life is too precious to miss. Spending countless hours filled with irrational fear and worry and using drugs or alcohol to try to balance it will not lead to a healthy outcome. Millions of people are suffering from anxiety at any given moment. Seek out a treatment facility that will allow you to work on – and heal – your whole self.  


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