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Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Panic Attacks

Many people can be diagnosed with a panic disorder after they start abusing substances, as it is a common side effect.

What Is Panic Disorder?

Panic disorder, or panic attack disorder, is an unexpected, strong, and overwhelming feeling of anxiety, fright, or terror in the absence of a "visible" or "actual" cause. This means that many panic attacks generally occur in the absence of any actual danger.[1]

Panic attack symptoms typically start rapidly, reach their peak in ten minutes, and then gradually taper off in severity and intensity. It is, however, possible for multiple panic attacks to occur right after the other, leading to longer durations or "panic spells" such that it even becomes challenging to tell when one panic attack episode has ended and when another has begun.

Panic Disorder

How Common is Panic Disorder?

Contrary to what a lot of people seem to believe, panic attacks are very common, and they affect individuals all over the world. According to a particular study, more than 10% of all adults globally experience panic attacks on a yearly basis. This is a statistic that, if converted to numbers, would amount to include millions of individuals, further indicating just how much of a global issue that panic attacks can be.[2]

The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Panic Attacks

Currently, the relationship between substance abuse and panic attacks remains somewhat unclear. However, what has been established is that substance abuse in people suffering from panic attack disorder usually worsens the severity of the panic attack. You should know that the relationship between substance abuse and panic attacks isn't one-way though, as panic attacks have also been known to result in substance abuse problems.

The results from a particular study showed that up to 10% of people suffering from panic attacks and substance abuse reported that their drug use began as a way of coping with the symptoms of panic disorder. However, most people with this condition reported that their substance abuse problem had begun before the manifestation of panic attacks.[3]

Panic Attacks vs. Panic Disorder

Panic attacks refer to an isolated occurrence or manifestation of the symptoms of a panic disorder, which includes intense emotional feelings accompanied by physical symptoms. When these attacks frequently occur over a period, the condition is only then classified as a panic disorder.

Panic Disorder vs. Anxiety

People usually use the terms "panic attack" and "anxiety attack" interchangeably, assuming that they mean the same thing, which is not true. For those with anxiety, they may experience symptoms often and intensely, but that does not always mean they have a panic disorder.

A panic attack disorder is typically characterized by intense feelings, accompanied by several physical symptoms that take a while to come down from, something that's absent in an anxiety attack.

What Causes Panic Disorder?

Several factors or criteria (panic disorder criteria) could be responsible for the manifestation and occurrence of panic attacks and panic disorders. These include the following:

  • Family history
  • Mental health issues
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Other risk factors for panic disorder, such as job nature and exposure to anxiety-causing situations

Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Just like most other medical health conditions, early detection of panic disorder contributes significantly to the efficacy of panic disorder therapy. This is why it's important you know what panic disorder symptoms are.

Common Signs of Panic Disorder

Common panic disorder symptoms include the following:[4]

  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing and swallowing
  • Difficulties
  • Chest and stomach pain
  • Numbness and tingling sensations
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Elevated fear and anxiety levels

When to Seek Professional Help?

Suppose you're repeatedly experiencing some or all of the above-listed panic attack symptoms. In that case, you might have panic disorder, so it's recommended that you reach out to your healthcare provider and seek professional help as soon as possible.

It may turn out that you have panic disorder or another type of anxiety disorder. Either way, it’s important for you or your loved one to reach out for help if you feel like these symptoms are starting to impact daily life.

Diagnosing Panic Disorder

Panic attack disorder diagnoses usually start with a complete physical examination that will enable your doctor to know your current health status and identify any possible alternate causes for the symptoms you've been feeling. Your doctors will also conduct a check on your medical history to look for reasons why you may be experiencing the symptoms you're feeling.

Also, because a panic attack is so similar in terms of symptoms to a heart attack, your doctor will likely recommend a panic disorder test such as an electrocardiogram to rule out a heart attack as a cause for your symptoms. Additionally, they could recommend you undergo blood tests as this will enable them to evaluate your thyroid hormone levels. If there is a hormonal imbalance, it could manifest as irregular heartbeats. Psychological evaluation is also a part of panic disorder diagnosis.

Panic Disorder Diagnostic Criteria

It is important to note that the fact that an individual experiences a panic attack or has a panic attack episode doesn't necessarily mean they can be diagnosed with panic disorder.

Before an individual can be diagnosed with panic attack disorder, they must have recurrently experienced panic attack episodes over time, and these episodes must not be caused by drug intake or some underlying psychological or medical condition.

Panic Disorder Complications and Prevention

One of the things that makes panic disorder treatment somewhat challenging is that some complications may accompany this disorder. These complications would have some sort of effect on the panic attack treatment approach as well as the panic disorder medication employed in treatment.

Complications of panic disorder include the following:

  • Agoraphobia
  • The development of other phobias
  • Anticipatory anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation

Can Panic Disorder Be Prevented?

There is no 100% working method of preventing panic disorders; however, you can make several health and lifestyle changes that will help you become less susceptible to panic attacks if you think you are more prone to them.[5]

How Is Panic Disorder Treated?

Treatment for panic disorder usually involves the use of psychotherapy or medications, or in some cases, both. Some examples of medication for panic disorder include anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants. Support groups are also very important additions to the treatment and management of panic attacks and panic disorder.

Overall, the prognosis for people with panic disorder is positive. Studies have shown that more than 85% of patients experience successful treatment results with the right treatment, and up to 65% of these patients generally have their symptoms lessen within six to seven months.[6]

How to Help Someone with Panic Disorder?

If a loved one is experiencing symptoms of a panic disorder, there are a few things you can do to help them. Here are some ways to offer help:[7]

  • Remain calm and reassure them.
  • Ask them how you can help them feel better. Giving them some space is okay as long as they're not in any immediate danger.
  • Learn the symptoms of panic disorder for yourself, so you can quickly detect it as it comes.
  • Employ grounding techniques.
  • Avoid saying insensitive things. It's okay if their fears do not make sense to you, but that doesn't in any way lessen the fact that they are experiencing what they are experiencing.
Panic Disorder

Get Help for Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks at Genesis Recovery

Are you or a loved one currently suffering from panic disorder? If you are, and you're looking for effective panic attack treatment, Genesis Recovery is the perfect place for you. At Genesis Recovery, we offer individualized treatment handled by licensed and experienced professionals so you can rest assured that your safety and wellbeing are always guaranteed. You will be able to enjoy and access the kind of quality care that you need to beat panic disorder for good.


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