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Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes

Risk Factors

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

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

Risk factors for developing GAD include:


Women have twice the risk of developing GAD 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 doctors 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. There may be a genetic component to feelings of anxiety that is passed down through generations.

Genetic Factor

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

Substance Abuse

Nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine abuse can increase the risk of GAD.

Medical Conditions

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

Socioeconomic and Ethnic Factors

Members of poor minority groups, particularly immigrants, tend to be at greater risk for developing GAD. 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 GAD 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 GAD 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.



Generalized anxiety disorder. American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: . Published October 2000. Accessed October 30, 2008.

Hettema JM, Prescott CA, Myers JM, et al. The structure of genetic and environmental risk factors for anxiety disorders in men and women. Arch Gen Psych.2005;62:182-189.

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