When left untreated, anxiety disorders can increase the risk of more severe and sometimes life-threatening conditions. These include depression, suicide, substance abuse, and physical illness. Take obsessive compulsive disorder as an example. Problems resulting from OCD may include health issues like contact dermatitis from frequent hand washing, the inability to work or attend school, complicated relationships, the avoidance of social activities, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and an overall poor quality of life. Generally speaking, anxiety disorders are a chronic condition with no cure, but given the proper treatment, most sufferers are able to manage their symptoms and live a good life.
Both anxiety and depression can cause similar symptoms such as agitation, the inability to concentrate, and insomnia. That said, depression and anxiety disorders are not the same. Each disorder has its own causes as well as its own set of emotional and behavioral symptoms. For depression, these include feelings of sadness and hopelessness, anxiety or tension, extreme moodiness, poor appetite or overeating, low energy or fatigue, and irritability or anger. It is often the case that those who develop depression have a history of anxiety disorders earlier in their life.
The majority of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness, one of which is often anxiety. In fact, over 70 percent of people who have attempted suicide have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. Specifically, those with obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder are at an increased risk for suicide. Furthermore, people who are considering suicide will often display symptoms of anxiety, as well as other moods such as depression, rage, irritability, humiliation, and a loss of interest. There are also a number of telltale signs and specific behaviors, like acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities, isolating from friends and family, giving away prized possessions, and sleeping too much or too little.
As for substance abuse, people with anxiety will often turn to alcohol and other substances to relieve their symptoms, although long-term alcohol use can actually have the reverse effect. That is, it can produce anxiety due to the biological changes it can cause. This is most often the case for people with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder commonly turn to smoking and substance abuse, and adolescents with PTSD are at a greater risk of developing eating disorders. Because people experience temporary relief from anxiety while under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, substance abuse is often seen in individuals with anxiety disorders.
When it comes to physical illness, anxiety disorders can increase the risk of developing certain illnesses. This is because anxiety causes adrenaline levels to remain high, which is the hormone that’s involved in the fight-or-flight response. Chronic stress, for example, is often associated with anxiety and can compromise the immune system. This then makes the sufferer more susceptive to infections like colds, the flu, and various other viral and bacterial diseases. Other examples of physical illness caused by anxiety include gastrointestinal disorders, specifically irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia, chronic respiratory disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.