When it comes to exploring the connection between panic disorder and alcohol abuse, one is faced with a quandary; which disorder emerged first, the alcohol abuse or the panic disorder? This is a logical question, as there is evidence that either scenario may be valid. Someone who suffers from anxiety, in the form of panic attacks, may self-medicate using alcohol as a panacea for the intense fear response that is common with panic disorder. On the other hand, alcohol abuse itself has been linked with stoking panic attacks. Evidently, alcohol abuse is detrimental to individuals struggling with anxiety or panic disorder.

In the first example, of using alcohol to help alleviate the severe feelings of distress experienced during a panic attack, alcohol can become addictive. The individual begins to anticipate the need for alcohol in the event of another attack, so they might reflexively reach for it at the slightest sign of fear or worry. Over time, this thought-behavior pattern has the potential to morph into alcohol use disorder, adding an additional layer of complexity to the existing mental health disorder.

In the second example, alcohol use or abuse may trigger panic attacks due to resulting physiological conditions, such as dehydration, low blood sugar, and increased heart rate. In addition to the physical cause for possibly initiating a panic attack, alcohol abuse leads inevitably to serious negative consequences that themselves could spark the intense fear response. Alcohol withdrawal may also cause anxiety and symptoms related to panic disorder.

The correlation between panic disorder and alcohol abuse is an important one to explore. Each of these disorder on its own lead to isolating behaviors, so when they coexist there is the risk of serious impairment in functioning due to social withdrawal and isolation.

Dual diagnosis are more complex conditions to treat, necessitating a specialized treatment approach that addresses both of the issues, the anxiety disorder and the substance use disorder, simultaneously. This approach has been shown to yield higher recovery success rates than treating the disorders one at a time.

About Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is under the anxiety umbrella of mental health conditions, impacting approximately 2.7% of American adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. When someone initially experiences a panic attack, they may seek medical attention thinking they might be having a heart attack. This is due to the similarity of symptoms between these two events. Panic disorder episodes typically involve the following symptoms:

  • Racing heart
  • Palpitations
  • Shaking
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal distress, diarrhea

When a panic attack occurs it often happens with no warning and with no cause or dangerous situation present. Although research has not yet determined the cause of panic disorder, there is some indication that panic disorder has a genetic component. Significant and stressful life events may also be causal in developing this mental health disorder.

About Alcohol Use Disorder

While most adults can use alcohol responsibly, some may find themselves leaning on the substance and consuming more alcohol than is healthy for them. When someone consistently exceeds the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this constitutes an alcohol use disorder. The CDC defines moderate alcohol intake as no more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women or two per day for men.

The number of symptoms an individual experiences will dictate the level of severity of the alcohol use disorder, ranging from mild, to moderate, to severe in acuity. Symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Drinking more than you intend
  • Try to stop drinking, or cut back, and cannot
  • Engage in high risk behaviors while intoxicated
  • Increased tolerance to alcohol, leading to higher consumption
  • Continue to drink regardless of negative consequences
  • Spend increasing amounts of time drinking
  • Withdrawing socially, isolating
  • Legal problems due to drinking, such as a DUI
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit drinking

Comprehensive Treatment for the Panic Disorder and Alcohol Abuse

Treating the co-occurring panic disorder and alcohol use disorder requires a dual diagnosis treatment program. These specialized programs are equipped with the expert staff that is trained to manage the sometimes unpredictable issues that may emerge during treatment. Both disorders should be treated concurrently for the best recovery outcome.

If the individual with panic disorder has developed alcoholism, the first step in recovery will be to undergo a medical detox process. Alcohol detox can present certain health risks, so it is advisable to seek a medically supervised detox program where symptoms and vital signs can be closely monitored and treated.

Treatment for the two conditions will involve psychotherapy, medication, such as antidepressants or naltrexone, and experiential and holistic adjunctive therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is helpful for both disorders by guiding the individual to make fundamental shifts in their behavioral response to triggers. CBT also helps individuals develop new coping skills and a more productive mindset.

Exposure therapy is helpful for treating the panic disorder in particular. Exposure therapy is what the title infers, involving incremental exposure to fear situations or sensations. Helping individuals to apply the coping skills learned in CBT, and utilizing deep-breathing techniques, while engaged in exposure therapy can help them learn how to better manage the intense fear and worry associated with panic disorder.

Treatment should also include activities that enhance relaxation, teaching individuals how to achieve relaxation as a lifestyle remedy for managing stress. These activities might include meditation, mindfulness, yoga, massage therapy, journaling, and regular exercise.

Quest 2 Recovery Provides Expert Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Los Angeles

Quest 2 Recovery is a leading provider of addiction and dual diagnosis treatment, offering an effective blending of evidence-based approaches with holistic adjunctive therapies. For individuals struggling with the co-occurring panic disorder and alcohol abuse, our compassionate team is here ready to guide you toward a successful recovery. For more information about our program, please visit our website or reach out to the Quest team at (888) 453-9396.

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