Does anxiety lead to addiction?

Testimony of Maud Tijardovic – clinical psychologist in addictology.


First of all, it is important to distinguish between anxiety and addiction:

Addiction is a dependence linked or not to a substance leading to a compulsive behaviour (out of control).

Stress is a normal reaction of our body that allows us to face an emergency, a danger or a change. It is what allowed our ancestors to survive, meet challenges and reproduce. However, stress can have a negative impact on us and when it becomes exhausting, it leads to anxiety that can be expressed in different forms (phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety …) and that impact daily life.

Anxiety and addiction are linked but can exist without each other!

  • What is the link between anxiety and addiction?

People with anxiety are more likely to become addicted. They also have a very difficult time getting out of it.

The anxious patients I see in my office use drugs for different reasons. These reasons will direct them to the substance they will use:

People who are very introverted and have a strong social anxiety will tend to turn to “substance-free” addictions such as video games. The game will then act as a “buffer” between the players and the outside world.
People with high levels of stress, or even generalized anxiety, will use more disinhibiting substances such as alcohol or cannabis.
People who are stressed by work or by a particular area of life will be more attracted to substances such as tobacco. Tobacco will have a “placebo” effect on the brain and will make users feel more relaxed.


In addition, some people don’t use for fear of losing control and feeling like something is slipping away. In therapy, I tailor my treatment to the individual patient. Anxiety disorders and generalized anxiety are reduced by working on emotions and thoughts related to anxiety. For phobias and anxiety attacks, I offer the patient “exposure” exercises in order to get the patient used to the subject of his or her fear while controlling his or her emotions without being overwhelmed.


  • What advice would you give to people who are anxious about quitting smoking?

These people can reduce their anxiety through breathing exercises or meditation. In addition, there are 5 very simple emotional regulation strategies that they can use every day.

If they have to face a stressful situation (e.g.: presentation of a project), they can “Select the situation” by putting themselves in the right conditions to succeed in the presentation:

– get a good night’s sleep,
– eat well,
– make sure that the presentation is as I want it to be…

If they have to have an interview with their boss and they feel the stress rising during the discussion, they can:

Modify their behavior in front of the situation: if I feel the tone rising and my stress getting out of control, I can ask my boss for a little break to get some air and step back.

Redirect your attention: if you are feeling a lot of stress, you can ask yourself the following questions: What am I feeling? How much out of 10? Or in my body? This way my stress will decrease when I focus on my feelings rather than on the stressful situation.
Change your perspective. For example, if my boss explains to me everything that is wrong with my work, it is for my own good and so that I can progress.


Finally, the last strategy consists in debriefing what the person may have felt after a stressful situation. This way, they will be better able to manage the situation differently if it happens again.