It’s a fact that most people are not as understanding about mental health issues as they are about other diseases. Anxiety is one of those disorders that often finds sufferers looked down on or misunderstood. Frustrated friends and family wonder why they can’t just “get over it.” Well-meaning loved ones try to reason it away or talk you out of feeling the way you do. The root of the problem is that mental health issues are not clearly understood.

“One of the largest misconceptions about anxiety is that the disorder is something people ‘bring upon themselves,’” according to a July 2015 Huffington Post article by Healthy Living Editor Lindsay Holmes. In the piece, titled “Science Finds Even More Evidence That Anxiety Isn’t Just All In Your Head,” the author asserts that the issue is biological and the brain function that underlies anxiety and depression may actually be inherited.

Anxiety and Addiction

While anxiety can have negative effects all on its own – from avoiding social situations and hindering a career – there are other dangers associated with it. Approximately 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, and about 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance use disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Those suffering from anxiety may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate or manage their disorder, and it may work for a while, but with anxiety disorders, many find that alcohol or other substances eventually make their symptoms worse. Despite the negative impact, anxiety sufferers are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population, the ADAA says.

It’s not always clear which issue surfaces first, but it’s clear that one can lead to the other. That’s problematic because the symptoms of one disorder can make the symptoms of another worse. Still, the co-occurrence of substance abuse, particularly alcohol abuse, is common among people who have social anxiety disorder. It’s a common belief that alcohol can help “loosen you up,” but when it comes to anxiety disorders, it can actually have the opposite effect. In fact, alcohol or drugs often cause panic attacks among panic disorder sufferers.

The study shows that one in four people will experience a mental health issue in their life and one quarter of those believe mental illness is misunderstood. As we continue to learn more about mental health issues like anxiety and addiction, we can break down those barriers to understanding. When we all see these disorders for the medical diseases that they are and not some sort of emotional failing, we can move forward in treating them even more effectively.