Self-medication for Anxiety Linked to Drug Abuse Later On

Anxious individuals who drink or take drugs in order to calm their nerves suffer an increased risk of developing full-blown substance abuse disorder later on.

According to a recent study, anxious individuals who drink or take drugs in order to calm their nerves suffer an increased risk of developing full-blown substance abuse disorder later on.

This research is the first of its kind, as it attempts to reveal whether individuals who suffer from anxiety self-medicate because they are substance abusers or if such individuals become substance abusers because they self-medicate.

The study, performed by Jennifer Robinson and her colleagues from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, took some findings from a national United States survey of drinking problems and mental illness. Using these results, the researchers were able to follow almost 35,000 participants over the course of three years.

After three years, the researchers found that 13% of the individuals who suffered from an anxiety disorder at the beginning of the study and reportedly self-medicated with alcohol developed alcoholism.

Only 5% of the participants who did not self medicate developed alcoholism. This pattern remained true for participants who used drugs to calm their nerves.

After factoring in income, age, and other aspects, the researcher determined that self-medicating individuals were 2.5 to 5 times more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol or drugs in comparison to participants who did not deviate from their doctor's prescription.

Theoretically, a participant who self-medicated could have been a developing drug abuser without the researchers knowing, so these result may not be beyond reasonable doubt that self-medication is a slippery slope.

The researchers, however, maintained that their study bolsters that hypothesis.

They also found that participants who self-medicated with alcohol were 3 times as likely to develop social phobia as participants who did not.

The authors wrote that a "possibility is that the social unacceptability of substance use may create a desire to avoid social contact in those who actively use other drugs.”

This report was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.