Drinking Alcohol to Treat Anxiety Disorders Can Lead to Abuse According to Study

People who drink alcohol to treat their anxiety disorders are putting themselves in danger of alcohol abuse, according to a new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Drinking alcohol or using other mind altering drugs may help in the short term, but eventually without addressing the underlying anxiety problem the person self-medicating will inherit bigger issues.

“People probably believe that self medication works,” said James M. Bolton, M.D., the lead author of the study. “What people do not realize is that this quick-fix method actually makes things worse in the long term.”

The study used a sample of 34,653 American adults. It analyzed alcohol consumption in the group finding out that 13 percent of the adults drank in the previous year to reduce their anxiety or fear about a situation they were going through.

Almost a quarter of the adults in the study used other drugs to self medicate according to Bolton who also said that the drugs used were probably prescription such as Xanax used without an official prescription and not illegal drugs such as marijuana.

Those diagnosed with anxiety disorders who self medicated at the beginning of the study were two to five times more likely than those who did not self medicate to develop a drug or alcohol problem within three years.

Those in the study, who started off with anxiety symptoms and not a diagnosed disorder, were more likely to receive a diagnosis for a social phobia by the end of the study if they used alcohol or drugs to treat the symptoms.

A social phobia is also known as social anxiety disorder, and is when a person suffers from fear or anxiety over situations that involve social gatherings such as parties or public speaking.

“Serious consequences can develop very quickly,” said Bolton. “People can develop alcoholism and anxiety disorders within three years, and these are illnesses that can have a devastating impact on a person’s health, their relationships, and their financial situation.”

Self medication for anxiety disorders leading to substance abuse has been a common trend over time according to experts. But this is the first study that reveals which one precedes the other.

The study also is significant due to the fact that it’s the first to examine the relationship of anxiety and substance abuse in a group of people over a long period of time according to Kristen Anderson, Ph.D , and assistant professor of psychology at Reed College.

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