Anxiety disorders seem to have a genetic component, but even genetics can be strongly influenced by environmental factors that increase the risk of anxiety.

Why do some people experience more anxiety than others? Everyone seems to have a different tolerance to various levels of stress, and some people seem more prone to anxiety than others. Most people experience some degree of situational anxiety, but people with anxiety disorders suffer from overwhelming levels of anxiety each day. Are some people more likely to suffer from anxiety? Is anxiety genetic?

Whether anxiety disorder is genetic is still up for debate among scientists. It’s uncertain how much of a role environment and genetics play, but researchers are working to uncover the link between genetics and anxiety. 

Anxiety Disorders and Heredity

Finding out if anxiety is hereditary begins by looking at genetics. Research in humans and monkeys shows that anxiety traits can appear early in life and that an “anxiety temperament” seems to exist. Experiments show that monkeys and children with anxiety will withdraw when exposed to a mild stressor. In addition, their stress hormones increase more than their non-anxious counterparts. 

There is more evidence that may explain anxiety as a hereditary trait. Family history makes up about 30% of variations in brain activity during an anxious state. While many changes in the brain and DNA occur as a result of our environment, looking deeper into genetics can show whether anxiety is inherited.

Are There Anxious Genes?

When modified, some genes seem to be related to higher anxiety and decreased resilience to stress. MTHFR mutations are genetic changes that predispose almost 40% of the population to both physical and mental illnesses, including anxiety. For example, the link between MTHFR gene mutations and anxiety is supported by research about stress levels and pregnancy. The study shows that women who suffered violence during pregnancy had a mutation that predisposed their children to psychosocial trouble in adolescence, such as anxiety. 

Scientists have found many genes that control the production and processing of various brain chemicals. These include stress hormones that control behavior such as worry and fear of uncertainty. By connecting genetic markers to chemical changes throughout the brain, the evidence helps prove that anxiety can be passed down through genes.

However, genes aren’t the only factor at play. While environmental factors can affect someone throughout their lifetime, they can also change and shape the DNA passed to the next generation. 

Environmental and Other Risk Factors

A person’s upbringing and environment still impact the likelihood of having an anxiety disorder. There are both genetic and environmental causes of anxiety, which both intertwine to make someone more likely to have the disorder. Studies have shown that traumatic events in a person’s childhood can predispose them to psychiatric and substance abuse disorders, including anxiety. Other anxiety risk factors include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Number of years of formal education
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Difficult family environment
  • Caucasian race
  • Other mental health disorders

Anxiety Treatments and Strategies

There are many anxiety treatments that have seen success in past and current research, ranging from antidepressant medications to cognitive behavioral therapy. People who suffer from anxiety should learn about the many anxiety treatment options and choose one that can work well for them. People with anxiety disorder sometimes use drugs or alcohol to try and soothe their overwhelming anxiety, but it often leads to a co-occurring addiction. These additions should be treated along with the anxiety to improve a person’s odds of success. 

If you or someone you love is using drugs or alcohol in order to cope with anxiety, contact The Recovery Village today. With comprehensive treatment plans and expert staff, The Recovery Village can that can help you find treatment for co-occurring anxiety and addiction in a safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere. 

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Hillary Webster, ND
Dr. Hillary Webster is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor and a self-proclaimed Hormone Advocate. Read more

Pappas, Stephanie. “Anxious Brains Are Inherited, Study Finds.” LiveScience, July 8, 2015. Accessed June 6, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Anxiety Disorders.” July 2018. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Blanco, Carlos; et al. “Risk factors for anxiety disorders: Comm[…]n a national sample.” Depress Anxiety, 2014. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Gottschalk, Michael; Domschke, Katharina. “Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder[…]related traits.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 2017. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Hettema, John; Prescott, Carol; Myers, John; Neale, Michael; Kendler, Kenneth. “The Structure of Genetic and Environment[…]rs in Men and Women.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Radtke, K.M.; et al. “Transgenerational impact of intimate par[…]ocorticoid receptor.” Translational Psychiatry, 2011. Accessed June 6, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.