Can mental illness be an addiction?

Fanny Lord-Bourcier/THE CONCORDIAN @cartou.che

Finding comfort in anxiety

Mental illness can be addictive. I know that is a loaded, very serious statement, but allow me to explain. Ever since I was a kid, I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder. It usually manifested itself in very normal stressful situations and everyone figured it was just a part of growing up.

Though overtime, it worsened. In high school, I’d feel nauseous before hanging out with friends or I’d spend hours crying because I felt overwhelmed and overstimulated. I started to avoid going out, gaining a reputation for being “anti-social.” 

At the height of my anxiety I developed an intense fear of being murdered, which still lingers today. I spent nearly a year constantly looking over my shoulder and imagining different violent scenarios to see if I could plan a way to get out of them. 

I barely slept. I’d cry over every single assignment I’d submit because I knew I could barely manage to get it done in the first place. I didn’t go out unless it was to my best friend’s place where we’d just stay in. 

My mental health was at its lowest. The problem, though, was I didn’t want to change. 

I knew my fears were irrational. I knew I should’ve forced myself to try harder at school. I knew getting out of the house would make me feel better. But I had no interest in doing that. 

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of addiction is “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behaviour, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects.”

Looking back, I’d say I was addicted to my anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that mental illness is addictive, or that this applies to every mental illness. However, in my experience, it did — and it’s come to my attention that I’m not the only one who has felt this way. 

I found comfort in my anxiety, I was so deep in it for so long that it became what I centred my life around. My anxiety felt like that childhood stuffed animal, the one you couldn’t sleep without as a kid. I saw no reason to change.

The prospect of trying to fight my way out of my worst episode, just to fall back into another potentially even worse episode, was terrifying. 

In an interview with CBC, psychiatrist Dr. Judson Brewer said that humans can become addicted to worry and anxiety, and just like any other addiction our brain can learn to crave the sensation of worry.

I am only comfortable enough in saying this because of those lovely, deep 3 a.m. talks with friends. Those conversations were part of what helped me realize I was not alone in this experience. 

That’s the good news: You’re not alone.

There are places you can turn to for help.


If you’re struggling, please consider reaching out to Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological services.

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