Panic Disorder And Alcohol Use Disorder
A dual diagnosis (co-occurring disorder) is the coexistence of a substance use disorder and a mental disorder. Many people suffering from a panic disorder try to self-medicate with alcohol in an attempt to lessen their anxiety, and reduce the number of panic attacks. Using alcohol to self-medicate can be risky.
A Panic Disorder (PD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a constant state of anxiety and fear of impending doom. In general, panic disorders involve frequent panic attacks, and the anxiety of having a panic attack. Alcohol is a drug that actually changes the level of serotonin in the brain, which can intensify anxiety.
Alcohol may also decrease a person’s anxiety, but this feeling is only temporary. Using alcohol to try to cope with anxiety presents a risk of developing an alcohol addiction. The withdrawal symptoms of alcohol can cause anxiety as well.
Alcohol addiction (alcoholism) is a type of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in which an individual is unable to control or moderate the amount they drink despite harmful consequences. An AUD may cause problems in relationships, home, work, school, and mental health.
Understanding Panic Disorder
A panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by frequent, yet unexpected, episodes of intense fear, known as panic attacks. Panic attacks are terrifying, and people who experience these attacks dread even the thought of having one.
Panic attacks are an acute and sudden feeling of disabling fear and anxiety and may include physical symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Panic attacks reach their peak intensity around 10 minutes and may last for up to 20 or 30 minutes.
Many people with panic disorders avoid social situations and may have a hard time holding on to relationships, or jobs because of their overwhelming amount of fear.
The symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- severe anxiety
- trembling or shaking
- a sense of impending doom
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or discomfort
- feelings of choking
- fear of losing control
- feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- hot and cold sensations
- numbness or tingling sensation in hands and fingers
- fear of dying
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 2.7 percent of the adult population suffers from a panic disorder, and the average onset for this condition is 24 years old. A person who suffers from a panic disorder should never overindulge in alcohol because drinking too much may intensify panic attacks.
Can Alcohol Cause Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks can happen for a lot of reasons, and alcohol is one of them. Even though alcohol is a depressant, anxiety is still a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawals usually begin 48 to 96 hours after a person’s last drink. Panic attacks are more likely to occur the day after a binge drinking episode, and feelings of anxiety may last a full day.
Determining whether the alcohol use disorder or the panic disorder comes first may be difficult. An estimated 10 to 40 percent of people suffering from alcoholism will develop an anxiety disorder. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of people with anxiety disorders use alcohol or another drug. Each person’s experience with AUD and PD may vary from that of the next person.
A study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that, out of 97 patients suffering co-occurring panic and alcohol use disorders, the majority (63 percent) reported that alcohol use began before the onset of panic.
An individual suffering from alcoholism may begin to experience serious bouts of anxiety, especially when alcohol isn’t available.
Many situations involving alcohol abuse can contribute to a panic disorder, and some of those include:
- binge drinking
- alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- regular, heavy drinking
- heart arrhythmia
- alcoholism and agoraphobia
- spiked serotonin levels
- alcohol-induced anxiety
- hepatic encephalopathy
- loss of liver function – may contribute to anxiety disorders
Consequences Of Using Alcohol To Cope With A Panic Disorder
Panic disorders can affect all areas of a person’s life, including their work, home, or school. Many people with panic disorders try to use alcohol to calm their anxiety, but alcohol may actually contribute to anxiety.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, but its effect is often dulled by repeated drinking episodes, and increased tolerance. A person with a tolerance to alcohol may be more likely to drink an unsafe amount. Long-term heavy drinkers may be at greater risk of developing panic disorders, and alcohol-induced anxiety.
A co-occurring disorder can make a person feel trapped. For many, adding alcohol to a panic disorder will result in a vicious cycle of drinking and panic attacks. For people suffering from a panic disorder, even the thought of a panic attack can be as debilitating as the attack itself.
A person suffering from comorbid panic and alcohol use disorders may experience the following symptoms when they drink:
- increased anxiety after alcohol wears off
- difficulty breathing
- fast heart rate
- pain in chest
- panic attacks
- social isolation
A panic disorder often contributes to social isolation, which can be dangerous for someone with an alcohol problem. A person suffering from a panic disorder may consume a lethal amount of alcohol trying to treat their fear of social situations. A person with a panic disorder may try to avoid social situations, in general.
Treating Panic Disorder And Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol works by slowing the nervous system, masking the symptoms of a panic disorder instead of actually treating the problem. Alcohol is not considered a healthy way to treat a panic disorder. Treating comorbid alcohol use and mental disorders may call for behavioral treatment at an alcohol treatment center.
Overcoming a panic disorder may require more than abstinence from alcohol. Someone suffering from an alcohol addiction may have a hard time quitting without help. No matter a person’s road to recovery, treating each part of a dual diagnosis at the same time is necessary for treatment to be effective.
Finding the right dual diagnosis treatment isn’t always easy. AlcoholTreatment.net can help.
For More Information Related to “Panic Disorder And Alcohol Addiction” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From AlcoholTreatment.net:
- Does Alcohol Addiction Cause Mental Illness?
- Dual Diagnosis: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder And Alcohol Addiction
- Dual Diagnosis: Depression And Alcohol Addiction
- Dual Diagnosis: PTSD And Alcohol Addiction
- Does Binge Drinking Lead To Alcoholism?