The causes of generalized anxiety disorder remain a matter of debate. Genetics, imbalances in brain chemistry and environmental factors have all been suggested as possible causes of anxiety attacks, but exactly what causes anxiety disorders is often unclear.
Family and Anxiety Disorder Causes
Anxiety disorders seem to run in families. People whose first-degree relatives suffer from generalized anxiety disorder have a higher than normal risk of also developing GAD. A family history of severe anxiety disorders suggests genetic or environmental causes of anxiety attacks.
Twin studies support the theory that genetics contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. Results from studies of twins suggest genetic anxiety disorder causes are responsible for up to 37 percent of GAD cases.
Environmental Causes of Anxiety
Family history influences more than determine a person’s genetic makeup. Families have a profound effect on a person’s environment. How a family handles stress, conflict and anxiety-producing situations has an enormous influence on how individual’s deal with anxiety. Families who model unhealthy responses to anxiety can pass negative behavioral patterns from one generation to another, increasing the risk anxiety disorders.
Family dynamics and attitudes certainly increase the risk of severe anxiety problems, but cannot be considered true causes of GAD. A family that is prone to anxiety can include individuals who handle anxiety and stress in positive ways. Likewise, while stressful or traumatic life events can trigger generalized anxiety disorders, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event requires help for severe anxiety. Such events may be triggers for GAD, but are not causes.
Brain Chemistry and Severe Anxiety
Imbalances in brain chemistry may cause chronic anxiety. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers vital for the transmission of messages from one brain cell to another. Low levels of neurotransmitters affect how well the brain transmits information, and changes how the brain reacts to certain stimuli.
Low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine are associated with severe anxiety. Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder includes SSRI and SNRI antidepressants, which regulate levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Whether imbalances in brain chemistry cause anxiety, or are the result of anxiety disorders, is open to debate.
While the causes of anxiety may be open to debate, GAD responds well to treatment. Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms may be treated with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. talk therapy for anxiety is also effective, especially when combined with medication.