Alcoholics with anxiety have greater risk of relapse to drinking

Anxiety disorders can compromise success of alcohol dependence treatment 

Anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence co-occur at an alarming rate. Researchers investigate what effect anxiety disorders may have on the success of alcoholism treatment. Social phobia was the single best predictor of a return to any drinking following treatmentPanic disorder was the single best predictor of a relapse to alcoholism following treatment. 

Results of research indicate that two of the most common anxiety disorders found among alcoholics – social phobia and panic disorder – are more strongly associated with alcohol relapse than other anxiety disorders. 

“Researchers and clinicians have long observed that the rate of anxiety disorders among those suffering with alcohol dependence is two to four times greater than that found in the general population,” said Matt G. Kushner, associate professor at the University of Minnesota.   “Anxiety disorders are fairly common to begin with, about 15 percent of all adults, but the rate of anxiety disorders among alcoholics can be as high as 50 percent.” 

Kushner and his colleagues examined the diagnostic status and daily drinking patterns of 82 (53 males, 29 females) individuals one week after they entered treatment for alcoholism, and again 120 days later (n=53). 

Results indicate that screening for co-existing anxiety disorders in an alcoholism-treatment setting is clearly warranted. 

“The key finding from our study is that having an anxiety disorder when starting treatment for alcohol dependence marks individuals at a significantly greater risk for relapse to drinking within four months,” said Kushner. 

“Another very interesting finding was that different anxiety disorders predicted different aspects of alcohol relapse at alcoholism-treatment follow-up,” said Stewart.   “Having ‘social phobia’ – significant social fears and avoidance of social situations – at the outset of alcoholism treatment was the best predictor of a return to any sort of drinking at treatment follow-up. 

Having ‘panic disorder’ – persistent ‘panic attacks’ or episodes of intense anxiety and arousal – at the outset of alcoholism treatment was the best predictor of a relapse to alcoholism at treatment follow-up.   This pattern suggests that panic disorder is a risk factor for a major relapse, and social phobia a risk factor for a minor relapse, following alcoholism treatment.” 

Reference; Kushner, Matt G.; Abrams, Kenneth; Thuras, Paul; Hanson, Karen L.; Brekke, Marjorie; Sletten, Sandra.   (August 2005).   A follow-up study of anxiety disorder and alcohol dependence in comorbid alcoholism treatment patients.   Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.   29(8): 1432-1443.

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