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Self Medicating Anxiety Problems with Alcohol More than Doubles Risk of Substance Abuse Disorders

People with anxiety disorders who self medicate with alcohol are between 250% and 500% more likely to become substance abusers than people with anxiety disorders who follow the directives of their prescriptions.

Anxiety sufferers can often get short term relief from their symptoms by self medicating with alcohol but this kind of self medication can reduce the effectiveness of prescribed medications and can lead to substance abuse problems.

Scientists have long known of the association between anxiety and substance abuse – but it hasn’t been clear whether people with anxiety are already more likely to have substance abuse problems and to self medicate or whether people are self medicating and then developing substance abuse problems because of their self medication.

Canadian researchers from the University of Manitoba evaluated survey and interview data from 35 000 people with mental health problems who were followed over a three year period. The researchers found that amongst people with anxiety disorder but no substance abuse disorder at the start of the three year evaluation period:

  • 13% of those who self medicated with alcohol developed a substance abuse disorder by the end of the three year period.
  • 5% of those who did not self medicate with alcohol developed a substance use disorder by the end of the three year study period.

The results of the study show that people with anxiety problems but no substance abuse are using self medication with alcohol and that these people are at a substantially increased risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.

Commenting on the results of the study, lead researcher James M. Bolton, M.D. explained, "People probably believe that self-medication works. What people do not realize is that this quick-fix method actually makes things worse in the long term."

The full research results are published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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