Alcohol Abuse and Panic Attacks Can Be Related

Estimates tell us that somewhere around five percent of Americans are living with a form of panic or anxiety disorder. Part of that condition can include the experience of a panic attack. A panic attack is a gripping sense of fear that comes on suddenly and with little or no warning. The sensations which accompany the panic attack can range from mild to severely unpleasant but at the core the person feels helpless against some real (though often exaggerated) or imagined threat. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that close to 20 percent of those with an anxiety/panic disorder also abuse alcohol.

The symptoms of a panic attack can include any or several of the following:

  • The person finds it hard to breathe normally. They may feel as though their throat is too tight and they are nearly choking
  • May have a tingling sensation in their fingers and feel lightheaded
  • Muscles often tense and sweating is common - in fact, the person may feel as though they are having a heart attack complete with chest pain
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heightened startle response
  • Ear ringing
  • Feel an urgent need to get away
  • Feel a dis-association with reality
  • Hot flashes or cold chills
  • Feel like they are going crazy

During a panic attack the symptoms generally worsen for 10 minutes, peak, then start to abate with most attacks ending in around 20 minutes total. Depending upon what symptoms are being experienced, 20 minutes can feel like a long time. When these unpleasant symptoms arise, many people turn to alcohol in the belief that a drink will calm them and their symptoms down. At first this may prove to be the case. Yet eventually the person will need more alcohol to soothe themselves and drinking more can actually precipitate more panic attacks.

While some personalities are prone to excessive worry and anxiety there are a number of outside triggers which can cause a panic attack.

  • Drug or Alcohol withdrawal
  • Major life changes
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Death of someone near or loved
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anemia
  • Thyroid disease or malfunction
  • Violent trauma (eg: rape, robbery, domestic abuse)
  • Anti-depressant medication

People who attempt to medicate their fear or anxiety with alcohol find that alcohol use leads to other problems. As the person's alcohol use plays an increasing role in their life, the problems related to alcohol also increase. Soon, alcohol is not numbing their panic but is actually creating it. Now there is a cycle in which alcohol is used to dampen panic but only creates dependency and more reason for anxiety.

To escape this downward spiral a person will need to address both issues. There are meditative and physical methods for controlling fear and anxiety. In some cases, medicine may be helpful at first. Counseling can also help. However, the alcohol abuse will also need to be addressed. Since anxiety and substance abuse frequently appear concurrently it should not be hard to find a treatment center where both conditions can be dealt with and overcome together.

Posted on February 20th, 2013
Posted in Substance Abuse

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