Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition that affects roughly 7 million American adults annually. While GAD can begin at any age, it is most commonly detected and diagnosed in children or adolescents.

What separates Generalized Anxiety Disorder from everyday stress and anxiety is that generalized anxiety symptoms can last up to or even exceed six months.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a medical condition characterized by excessive and extreme anxiety and stress for no real reason.

Someone suffering from GAD is likely to constantly worry about minor or insignificant issues. They might also expect the worst possible outcome at every turn. Alternatively, they may feel constant worry or dread for no particular reason.

Eventually, this extreme and excessive worrying can make it difficult to perform routine tasks during the day or be in some social situations.

Causes and Risk Factors of GAD

As with other mental health conditions, some people are more likely to develop GAD than others.

Below are some of the more common causes and risk factors of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

  • Brain Chemistry: Studies have shown that Generalized Anxiety Disorder has been linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. There are also links between GAD and problems with specific nerve cell pathways that connect to the parts of the brain that control thinking and emotion.
  • Genetics: While no anxiety gene has been identified, research suggests that you are more likely to suffer from GAD if an immediate family member also has GAD.
  • Environment: Experiencing traumatic or stressful events (especially at an early age) can increase the risk of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Someone who is either currently suffering from addiction or has recently withdrawn and detoxed off an illicit substance might also be more prone to GAD.

Symptoms of GAD

While experiencing stress and anxiety throughout the day doesn’t necessarily mean you are suffering from GAD, there are some symptoms or warning signs to look for, both physically and mentally.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of GAD might mimic the physical symptoms of someone experiencing normal anxiety or stress. These symptoms are often more severe and long-lasting for someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Physical symptoms of GAD include:

  • Sleep problems (i.e., insomnia)
  • Muscle tension, spasms, or aches
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trembling
  • Constant sweating
  • Feeling always out of breath
  • Nausea or stomachaches
  • Headaches

Mental Symptoms

Those suffering from GAD don’t just suffer physically; they also suffer mentally. Some common mental symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include:

  • Excessive and ongoing stress, anxiety, and worry
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Constant feelings of restlessness
  • Feeling on edge
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Irritability
  • Feeling self-conscious about your anxious or worried emotions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Developing specific phobias

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects nearly 7 million adults yearly, equating to roughly 3% of the overall U.S. population. Unfortunately, many of those close to 7 million Americans don’t seek help for their GAD.

Many turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate so that they can alleviate some of their symptoms and begin to feel more normal. While this might seem like it is working in the short term, it is making their symptoms worse since a common side-effect of using illicit substances is often anxiety. It also increases the risk of developing a substance abuse problem.

GAD Treatment Options

While there is no known cure for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, there are treatment options. The most successful forms of treatment for GAD are psychotherapy, medication, support groups, and even some things you can do in the comfort of your home.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy helps treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder because it can help identify what led to the disorder’s development. Psychotherapy also teaches healthier and more productive ways of dealing with these thoughts, feelings, and triggers in the future.

The most popular therapy used to treat GAD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). However, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have also proven effective.

Medications

Some healthcare providers might prescribe medication either alongside or in place of psychotherapy treatment. These medications can help ease many symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder.

Some of the medications used to help treat GAD include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Buspirone
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Additionally, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a specific type of antidepressant that has been FDA approved to treat those suffering from certain mental health conditions such as depression and GAD. Examples of SSRIs include:

  • Prozac
  • Zoloft
  • Lexapro
  • Paxil
  • Celexa
  • Pexeva

Support Groups

In addition to taking medication and going to psychotherapy, some people might also benefit from a solid support system. Support groups are available in person and virtually for those suffering from GAD.

Home Remedies

There are lifestyle changes that you can make that can help with managing your Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Some things you can do in the comfort of your own home include:

  • Adopting a healthier diet
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Avoiding caffeine when possible
  • Avoiding alcohol and other illicit substances
  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing
  • Making sure to get enough sleep

Find Help for Generalized Anxiety Disorders

If you or someone you know is one of the nearly 7 million people who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, it’s important to remember that it is ok to ask for help. To get the treatment you need for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, reach out to your physician or licensed mental health professional.

Frequently Asked Questions About Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What are the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include:

  • Excessive and ongoing stress, anxiety, and worry
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Constant feelings of restlessness
  • Feeling on edge
  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle aches
  • Irritability
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trembling
  • Constant sweating
  • Feeling always out of breath
  • Feeling self-conscious about constantly being stressed, worried, or anxious
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

What causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder can have many causes. Most commonly, these causes include individual brain chemistry, genetics, and one’s environment.

How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder treated?

There are several different options for treating GAD, including:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medications (like SSRIs)
  • Support groups
  • Home remedies

What are some of the most common types of anxiety disorders?

The most common types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction GuideWritten by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

5 references
  1. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Anxiety and depression association of america, ADAA. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

  2. WebMD. (2021, September 14). Learn more about general anxiety disorder. WebMD. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/generalized-anxiety-disorder

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Generalized anxiety disorder: When worry gets out of Control. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

  4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, October 13). Generalized anxiety disorder. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20360803

  5. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021, August 8). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/generalized-anxiety-disorder

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