While paranoia and anxiety may share some overlapping symptoms and can even co-occur at times, they are not the same. There are important clinical differences between the two disorders.

Knowing the differences and getting an appropriate diagnosis will help you find effective treatment options.

Read on to find out more about paranoia and anxiety.

Paranoia is a thought process that causes an irrational mistrust of other people due to beliefs of persecution. This can sometimes occur in dementia, as well as in people who misuse certain drugs. Symptoms of paranoia can include:

  • mistrust of others
  • feeling disbelieved or misunderstood
  • feeling persecuted or victimized when no threat is present
  • isolation
  • constant stress related to beliefs about others

Anxiety is a natural response to stress. It’s typically a feeling of nervousness.

If feelings of anxiety are extreme, disproportionate, or long lasting, it might be an anxiety disorder instead of typical anxiety. Regular anxiety does not interfere with your daily life, but anxiety disorders do.

Over 40 million adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include:

Symptoms can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • fast breathing
  • trouble concentrating
  • restlessness
  • insomnia

A main difference between paranoia and anxiety is that with paranoia, there are delusional beliefs about persecution, threat, or conspiracy.

In anxiety, these thought processes are not generally present. Paranoia is characterized by distrust in others and their motives. This is generally not found in anxiety.

Paranoia and anxiety can arise from each other. Paranoia can cause significant fear and anxiety based on a person’s belief in the delusions, and anxiety may lead to paranoia. However, this is not always the case.

Both can cause similar bodily feelings like racing heart or feeling nervous, but the thought processes for each condition are different.

Each condition may have similar treatment options, like therapy, medication, or both. However, the focus of this treatment is different for each condition, and the medications are not necessarily the same.

Accurate diagnosis is important for any mental health condition, especially when it comes to conditions that share some similarities, like paranoia and anxiety.

Diagnosis is a layered process in order to rule out any other conditions.

Paranoia

Before making any kind of diagnosis, your doctor will do a complete physical exam to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing paranoia, like dementia.

They will also document your personal history to collect information about your health, behaviors, and lifestyle. This information may be an important factor in paranoia. For example, drug use may cause paranoia.

Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for any medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

They may also do some interviews or assessments in order to understand your thought processes and use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) criteria to make a diagnosis of a paranoid-type disorder.

Anxiety

A physical exam is typically done in order to rule out illnesses that may be causing your anxiety. The doctor will also take a personal history to get more information about your:

  • symptoms
  • functioning
  • health behaviors
  • lifestyle

They may order a variety of tests to also rule out other medical conditions with symptoms that mimic anxiety symptoms.

The DSM-5 has certain criteria for anxiety disorders, and you may be given some questionnaires or tests that will then be reviewed. These can include:

Your healthcare professional will also use the DSM-5 to evaluate your symptoms to make an informed diagnosis.

There are various treatments available for both paranoia and anxiety. Treatment often depends on the cause of the disorder and the severity of it. Treatment plans can vary among people.

Paranoia

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication are two common treatments for paranoia. Psychotherapy helps people with paranoia:

  • develop coping skills
  • build trust in others
  • gain the tools they need to manage their emotions

Atypical antipsychotic medications or anti-anxiety medication may help relieve symptoms. This is especially true for those with paranoid schizophrenia.

If the paranoia is related to drug use, supportive treatment is given until the effects of the drug wear off. Then, a drug treatment program is typically recommended.

Anxiety

While normal anxiety passes on its own, anxiety disorders do not. Treatment can help manage anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders are typically treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Psychotherapy is tailored to the person’s specific needs and triggers, so a variety of types of psychotherapy can be used. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used because it helps a person identify and challenge the distorted thoughts that cause anxiety.

Medication is not a cure for anxiety disorders, but it can help manage symptoms. Some common medications prescribed to treat anxiety are:

The good news is that, like many mental health conditions, paranoia and anxiety can be treated and managed, helping you lead a full life. While they cannot be cured, they can be managed.

Paranoia and anxiety can both be found in anxiety disorders, and although they share some similarities, they are very different conditions. Getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is important in order to address the unique thought processes and symptoms in each.