There is a distinct relationship between substance use disorders and psychiatric conditions. Referred to as a dual diagnosis, this often requires additional treatment beyond addiction counseling. Without exploring and understanding the psychiatric conditions that fuel drug abuse, relapse is common.
A panic disorder is a severe and acute anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and sudden episodes of extreme fear accompanied by physical symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
Panic disorder episodes are often unexpected and aren’t linked with any known fear or stressor. This causes many people additional anxiety, and it can trigger the fear of having another one that will affect their behavior in public. Some people who experience a panic attack avoid places and situations that could result in another panic attack or cause them embarrassment.
Anxiety is incredibly common today. It’s the most common mental illness and continues to increase in the United States. Over 28% of American adults reported anxiety disorder symptoms in the previous week.1
While anxiety and panic attacks may have overlapping symptoms, they’re distinct. Anxiety attacks usually follow excessive worry, and symptoms build over minutes or hours. The symptoms of an anxiety attack are milder and can last days to months before subsiding.
Panic disorder, on the other hand, appears suddenly without an obvious trigger. The symptoms are more acute and build over minutes and typically start to subside within 20 minutes. However, it’s possible to have multiple attacks in a row. While the episode itself is short, many people feel stressed or different days after the panic attack.
If you or your loved one suffer from panic attacks, you’re not alone. According to the Cleveland Clinic, approximately 11% of U.S. adults experience a panic attack in any given year.2
However, it’s unfortunately underdiagnosed and under-treated: only 37% of people who experience anxiety receive treatment on average.3
There is no one underlying cause of a panic disorder. However, some factors may play into panic attacks:
Certain factors that increase the risk of developing a panic disorder:
Without treatment, panic disorders can significantly impact an individual’s life. Complications include:
While drug use isn’t often the cause of panic attacks, it can worsen a panic disorder. Some people with panic disorders may try substances to help calm them, but it often triggers symptoms. In addition, alcohol or drug misuse can result in structural changes to the brain that causes a panic disorder.
Alcohol is both a depressant and a stimulant, which can trigger the emotions that lead to a panic attack. In addition, people often become more stressed while intoxicated because they lose control of their minds and bodies.
Trying to abstain from alcohol can also trigger feelings of anxiety and panic. Panic attacks are one withdrawal symptom as the body adjusts to functioning without alcohol. Relapses can occur in response to withdrawal-related panic attacks.
Whether a substance misuse or panic disorder came first isn’t the same for everyone. Those with anxiety disorders are at higher risk of substance abuse. However, substance use changes structures within the brain that can lead to a panic disorder. Either way, both must be treated.
It’s critical to understand the symptoms of both panic disorders and substance abuse for both you and your loved ones.
Common signs and symptoms of panic disorder:
Typically, individuals fill out a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. In addition, doctors will rule out other potential conditions (such as thyroid or heart problems) with:
To meet the diagnostic criteria for a panic disorder, an individual needs to experience recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. They also must be followed by one month or more of ongoing worry about an attack.
Therapy is considered the most effective first-choice treatment. It can help individuals learn about panic disorders and provide healthy coping mechanisms to deal with them.
Most of all, it helps people start to understand that panic disorders aren’t dangerous. Exposure therapy often helps individuals overcome their fear of experiencing an attack in public.
Certain medications can help manage the symptoms of a panic disorder, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Benzodiazepines can also be used on a short-term basis but are generally not recommended for those with a history of substance misuse.
It’s critical when treating substance misuse and panic disorders to identify and address all other underlying conditions. Depression and substance misuse, for example, are common co-occurring conditions. Treating all conditions helps significantly improve quality of life and overall wellbeing.
Help is available. Our experts here at The PAC Program have the knowledge and expertise to address panic attack disorder and substance abuse. Contact one of our professionals today to see how we can help you.
If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.