Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a mental illness characterized by constant anxiety and fatigue, can be difficult to pinpoint due to all of the complications associated with it. Teeth grinding, trouble sleeping, and substance abuse are all potential complications with GAD, according to the Mayo Clinic, and can all be viewed as problems independent of a mental illness. For people over the age of 60 with GAD, the association between alcohol use, insomnia, and their mental illness is especially strong, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The study, which focused on alcohol consumption and insomnia in older primary care patients, found that patients with GAD used alcohol at an increased rate, and those who drank less had less sleeping difficulties. This information can help mental health professionals diagnose and treat GAD more efficiently.

More About the Study

The study included 223 patients with GAD that were over the age of 60. Participants were recruited by the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine. After an initial screening, participants were asked to complete several questionnaires to assess their frequency of alcohol use, insomnia, worry, and anxiety. Researchers used the following questionnaires to do so:

  • Insomnia Severity Index
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder Severity Scale
  • Penn State Worry Questionnaire – Abbreviated
  • Structured Interview Guide for the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale [SIGH-A]
  • State-Trait Anxiety Inventory – Trait Subscale

Most patients used alcohol to some degree, but frequency of alcohol use was low. Alcohol use was associated with:

  • Higher education
  • Being female
  • Reduced worry
  • Less severe insomnia
  • Anxiety

Researchers concluded that older adults with GAD use alcohol more, but mild and moderate drinkers do not experience sleeping difficulties.

What It Means for People with GAD

While researchers stated that “a modest amount of alcohol may minimize the association between anxiety/worry and insomnia among this group," they emphasize that heavy moderation is crucial. One of the the first steps to solving insomnia and alcoholism is treating GAD, which could be the cause of sleeplessness and alcohol misuse. Once a person with GAD is in treatment, they can take steps to diminish these side effects.

Date of original publication: .

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M. Cristina Ivan, Amber B. Amspoker, Michael R. Nadorff, Mark E. Kunik, Jeffrey A. Cully, Nancy Wilson, Jessica Calleo, Cynthia Kraus-Schuman, Melinda A. Stanley. Alcohol Use, Anxiety, and Insomnia in Older Adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, September 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jagp.2013.04.001