Persons who have anxiety disorders commonly self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs, a recent survey confirmed. The results were published in the November 2006 issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Dr James Bolton and colleagues, from the University of Manitoba in Canada, administered a nationally representative survey of a modified version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview in the United States; 5877 persons responded, and of the respondents, 1477 were identified as having an anxiety disorder. The study was administered from September 1990 to February 1992.
The presence of any anxiety disorder was associated with a 21.9% prevalence of self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Persons with generalized anxiety disorder showed the highest self-medication rate (35.6%) and persons with bipolar I disorder showed the lowest rate (only 12.6% of respondents indicated self-medication). White persons were more likely to self-medicate than any other race (84.5%). Men were more likely to self-medicate than women (55.4% vs 44.6%).
The researchers found that people who self-medicate were also more likely to be separated or divorced (18.7% vs 11.8%), were more likely to have had suicidal thoughts (44.1% vs 18.1%), and were more likely to have attempted suicide (23.7% vs 6.24%). In addition, 56.8% of persons who admitted to self-medicating also had major depression, compared with 30.7% who did not self-medicate.
The authors noted that the findings of this study underscore the need for clinical assessment for comorbidity and suicidality in patients with anxiety disorders who use drugs or alcohol to reduce their anxiety symptoms.