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Anxiety and Addiction: Why Are Women at High Risk?

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Anxiety and addiction often develop together, although it is difficult to determine which comes first. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and may turn to addictive substances as a coping mechanism. Although anxiety does not necessarily cause addiction (and vice-versa), 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder also have a substance abuse disorder. Both anxiety and addiction are forms of mental illness, and women are at a particularly high risk.

Why Anxiety and Addiction Affect Women


Studies suggest that the female brain is hit harder by the presence of stress hormones, meaning that women may be more sensitive to stress, particularly high levels of it. The pressure of maintaining a work, family, and social life can contribute to increased anxiety in women. Additionally, women may be more prone to dwelling on perceived problems, allowing their thoughts to consume them without resolution.

Estrogen may also play a significant role in women’s propensity towards anxiety and addiction. Addictive substances release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good. People can get hooked on this feeling, which can lead to addiction. Estrogen affects the amount of dopamine the brain releases when using addictive drugs. Due to varying levels of estrogen during their menstrual cycles, women may be at a higher risk to developing an addiction.


Men and women develop anxiety and addiction for different reasons. Women are more likely to use addictive substances to self-medicate when they are feeling anxious or depressed. Therefore, a rise in anxiety may correlate to a rise in addiction in women. Women are also prescribed higher rates of prescription opioids to deal with chronic pain. In turn, women are more likely to visit an emergency room because of opioid abuse. This suggests a link between gender and addiction.

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Dual Diagnosis

Women are more likely than men to have more than one psychiatric disorder during their lifetime. Anxiety and addiction are unpredictable and may develop differently in each individual. Experts suspect that both anxiety and addiction are largely under-diagnosed in women. The reason for this is twofold: women tend to ignore the symptoms of a dual diagnosis, and it can be very hard to diagnose, even by a medical professional. The symptoms of anxiety can worsen the symptoms of addiction, and the reverse is also true. With early diagnosis and treatment, anxiety and addiction in women can be overcome.

If you or a woman you love is having problems with drug abuse, alcohol dependency or anxiety, drug rehab for women may be the answer.  Remember that recovery from addiction and alcohol abuse treatment means learning how to cope with intensely emotional situations, and identifying when you need help and support.  Treatment for addiction relapse, counseling, and aftercare can help you do this, so please call us today.  Destination Hope: The Women’s Program is a full service addiction and women’s health treatment facility in Florida for women who suffer from substance abuse and behavioral health issues.

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