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Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder


Updated November 25, 2008

If you or someone you care about has generalized anxiety disorder, you are probably curious what causes it. Truth is, no one knows for sure, but there are several theories. The following is a brief overview of three major areas of thought on how GAD develops, with links to articles that cover each perspective in more depth.


The most current research into the causes of GAD focuses on genetics and biological factors. There is evidence that anxiety disorders like GAD can be shared between family members, and that having a parent or relative with GAD makes one more likely to develop it. Read more on biological causes of GAD.


Another view is that GAD develops through environmental factors, meaning the things you are exposed to on a daily basis. If children have parents with an anxiety disorder like GAD, they can learn by observation and direct interaction on how to deal with stress anxiously. For example, if a child watches and hears about her mother constantly worrying, this practice and be adopted by the child and become her way of dealing with stress as well. There is also evidence that being in an unsafe environment or experiencing abuse can also lead to GAD. Click here for more on environmental causes of GAD.

Integrative Perspective

Many clinicians believe that GAD is likely caused by a combination of these factors. For example, one person may have a genetic predisposition to develop GAD but it never becomes a problem because the person learns strong coping strategies and never experiences intense stress at critical points of time. However, another person with the same disposition may develop it due to a strong environmental influence from a parent or because he experienced a traumatic event as a young person.
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