Risk Factors for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
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Risk Factors for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

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A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop generalized anxiety disorder with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing generalized anxiety disorder. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for developing generalized anxiety disorder include:


Women have twice the risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder as men. Reasons for this include hormonal factors, cultural expectations (taking care of others’ needs at home, in the community, and at work), and more willingness to visit healthcare providers and talk about their anxiety.

Family History

Anxiety disorders tend to run in families. This may be due to family dynamics, such as the failure to learn effective coping skills, overprotective behaviors, abuse, and violence.

Genetic Factor

Approximately one out of four (25%) of first degree relatives with general anxiety disorder will be affected.

Substance Abuse

Nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and cocaine abuse can increase the risk of general anxiety disorder.

Medical Conditions

Patients with unexplained physical complaints, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, or chronic pain conditions have a greater risk of general anxiety disorder.

Socioeconomic and Ethnic Factors

Members of poor minority groups, particularly immigrants, tend to be at greater risk for developing generalized anxiety disorder. This may be due to problems adjusting to a new culture, feelings of inferiority, alienation, and loss of strong family ties.


Generalized anxiety disorder often occurs concurrently with depression , particularly major depression or dysthymia (chronic mild depression). Adolescents with depression seem particularly at risk for developing generalized anxiety disorder in adulthood.

Cultural Factors

Two studies in 2000 found that anxiety rates among children and adolescents had increased significantly since the 1950s. Both studies suggested that anxiety was related to lack of social connections and a sense of increased environmental threat.

Stressful Events in Susceptible People

The initial appearance of generalized anxiety disorder often follows a highly stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one, loss of an important relationship, the loss of a job, or being a victim of a crime.


American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: http://www.psych.org/.

Hettema JM, Prescott CA, Myers JM, et al. The sturucture of genetic and environmental risk factors for anxiety disorders in men and women. Arch Gen Psych. 62:182-189.

Last reviewed February 2007 by David Juan, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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