Self-Medicating for Anxiety Increases Risk of Substance Abuse Disorders

Self-medicating with alcohol and drugs to ease anxiety substantially increases the risk of substance use disorders, suggests a new study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The researchers also found people who self-medicated for anxiety were more likely to have a social phobia, such as fear of going to parties or speaking in public.

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

The study, which included 34,653 adults, found of those who reported any substance use during the past year, 13 percent self-medicated with alcohol, and 24 percent used drugs to reduce their anxiety, fear or panic about a situation, Science Daily reports.

CNN reports that overall, people with diagnosed anxiety disorders who self-medicated at the beginning of the study were two to five times more likely than people who did not self-medicate to develop an alcohol or drug problem within three years.

Of those who had an anxiety disorder and self-medicated with alcohol, 13 percent developed an alcohol use disorder, compared with five percent of those who did not self-medicate with alcohol. Among people with an anxiety disorder who self-medicated with drugs, 10 percent developed a drug problem, compared with two percent of those who did not self-medicate with drugs.

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    Concerned Citizen

    August 5, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    My opinion may not be popular but I’m not a fan of the use of the term “self medicating.” People with mental illness who use substances in an effort to find relief are using substances inapropriately. It’s the linguistic equivalent of calling obese people “plump” and alcohol abusers “partiers.” It’s inaccurate in its attempt not to offend. I’d like to see the term vanish. How necessary would an article like this be if the title were “People who use substances inappropriately are more likely to develop substance use disorders.” You see?

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