Though the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) is commonly associated with externalizing personality traits and disorders, like impulsivity and ADHD respectively, studies suggest that internalizing personality traits and disorders can also contribute to the onset of an AUD (Gorka et al., 2014). People with an anxiety disorder, for example, may turn to alcohol in order to feel better, thus establishing a coping strategy for their mental illness based on avoiding their anxiety disorder (Gorka et al., 2014). Research concerning the internalizing pathway to developing an AUD has been conflicting: some studies have suggested that having an anxiety disorder puts an individual at a higher risk for AUD onset, while others have found that having an anxiety disorder reduces an individual’s risk (Gorka et al., 2014). Because of these disagreeable findings, we can conclude that there are other factors at work that have an influence over the relationship between anxiety disorders and the onset of an alcohol use disorder.
Stephanie M. Gorka and colleagues decided to look into the influence parental support had on the relationship between anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorders. They defined parental support as being composed on demonstrations by the parent of “companionship, intimacy, affection, and instrumental aid” (Gorka et al., 2014). Prior to looking at the interactions between anxiety disorders, parental support, and alcohol dependence, the researchers looked at the relationship between the first two elements only: less parental support for individuals with anxiety disorders could put those individuals at a higher risk for developing an AUD because of lower self-esteem and increased vulnerability (Gorka et al., 2014). Conversely, those who had anxiety disorders in addition to higher parental support were thought to be at less of a risk for AUD onset because they had a better relationship with their parent and thus spent less time with peers who could potentially expose them to alcohol.
Keeping this in mind the researchers did their study in four waves through self-reports and found that, as hypothesized, those who had low maternal support coupled with anxiety disorders were more likely to develop an AUD than those without anxiety disorders, by 65% (Gorka et al., 2014). Those who had anxiety disorders coupled instead with high maternal support were 35% less likely to have the onset of an AUD (Gorka et al., 2014). Interestingly enough, the effect of higher maternal support on AUD onset was not as strong as the effect of lower maternal support on AUD onset; this means to say that having increased maternal support in one’s life had less of an impact on an individual’s development of an alcohol use disorder than did low maternal support.
This study shows us that mental health and a person’s environment are highly intertwined and that interactions between these two elements are more complicated than they may appear on the surface—especially since a person’s environment can influence their mental health, and their mental health state can then make them susceptible to (or protect them from) other kinds of mental health issues. Though many anxiety disorders can be comorbid with other conditions, it is important to continue to research the way anxiety disorders may or may not contribute to the development of other non-anxiety health problems, whether they be mental or physical. We would not only understand the onset of other conditions more thoroughly, but it would expand our knowledge surrounding mental health as well.
Gorka SM, et al. (2014). Anxiety disorders and risk for alcohol use disorders: The moderating effect of parental support. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 140, 191-197.