Risk Factors for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

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

It is possible to have 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. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

Risk factors for developing GAD include:


Women are diagnosed with GAD twice as often as men. It may be tied to hormones, cultural expectations, and more willingness to visit doctors and talk about their anxiety.

Family History

Anxiety disorders may run in families. The risk of GAD may be higher if there is a family history of anxiety or mood disorders.

Substance Abuse

Smoking, alcohol, and drug use can increase the risk of GAD.

Medical Conditions

People with chronic illnesses have a greater risk of GAD.

History of Stressful Life Events

GAD may be more likely in those with history of:

  • Traumatic event—physical or emotional
  • Poor or oppressed
  • Childhood abuse or neglect; exposure to parental abuse or drug use or physical discipline
  • Divorce, separation, or being widowed
  • Lower education level


Generalized anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Accessed January 13, 2020.
DeMartini J, Patel G, Fancher TL. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Apr 2;170(7):ITC49-ITC64
Locke AB, Kirst N, Shultz CG. Diagnosis and management of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015 May 1;91(9):617-24
11/6/2014 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Mars B, Heron J, et al. Clinical and social outcomes of adolescent self harm: population based birth cohort study. BMJ. 2014;349:g5954.
Last reviewed May 2020 by Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 7/29/2020

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebsco.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.