Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) can affect anyone at any age, but some people have risk factors that make them more susceptible to GAD than others. The presence of generalized anxiety disorder risk factors does not automatically mean a person will develop GAD. He more risk factors a person has for anxiety disorders, however, the greater the individuals risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder.
Gender and GAD
Being female greatly increases the risk of generalized anxiety disorders. Women are twice as likely as men to receive a GAD diagnosis. The reason for this gender discrepancy is unclear. Hormonal factors and cultural expectations may increase the risk of generalized anxiety disorder for women.
Another theory notes that women are, generally speaking, more likely than men to discuss depression, anxiety and other mental disorders with doctors. If this is a factor, rates of generalized anxiety disorders in men may be underreported.
Age and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
GAD symptoms often develop in childhood. Traumatic childhood events such as abuse may trigger generalized anxiety disorder, or increase the risk of the anxiety disorder developing later in life. Generalized anxiety disorders are also some of the most common mental disorders amongst elderly Americans.
Anxiety, Stress and GAD
Stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Events that cause significant stress, such as divorce, chronic illness or violent crime, are risk factors for generalized anxiety disorder. A series of smaller stressors may also trigger GAD. Why stress and anxiety increase the risk of generalized anxiety disorder in some people and not in others is unclear. People who have nervous personalities to start with may be at greater than normal risk of developing GAD or other personality disorders.
Family and GAD
Anxiety disorders are known to run in families. If a person has a first degree relative with GAD he or she has a 25 percent chance of also developing the disorder.
How familial risk factors for GAD work is unclear. Genetics may play a role, as can family attitudes towards anxiety, stress and conflict.
Mental Disorders and GAD Risk Factors
Clinical depression is often seen in combination with generalized anxiety disorder, although it’s sometimes difficult to determine with mental disorder came first. Of the different types of depression, major depression and chronic mild depression (dysthymia) are most commonly diagnosed alongside generalized anxiety disorder.
Physical Conditions and Anxiety
People with serious and chronic disease have higher than normal risk of generalized anxiety disorder. Irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, chronic pain and sleep apnea all increase the risk of GAD.
Substance Abuse and Generalized Anxiety Disorders
People who abuse drugs or alcohol have relatively high rates of generalized anxiety disorder. Alcoholism, cocaine abuse and marijuana abuse all increase the risk of GAD. Nicotine and excessive caffeine use also increase general anxiety symptoms.
Risk Factors and Causes of GAD
It’s important to remember the difference between risk factors and generalized anxiety disorder causes. Risk factors increase the possibility of GAD: they do not, however, cause generalized anxiety disorder. GAD can develop even in the absence of known risk factors.