Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by frequent and random episodes of extreme panic or terror.
Because these episodes are random and unexpected, those who suffer from this disorder experience a lot of anxiety in between episodes. During these times of anxiety, they may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from anxiety attacks.
Millions of Americans are affected by panic disorder and substance abuse simultaneously, and oftentimes the best way to treat both disorders is through dual diagnosis treatment.
What Is A Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that currently affects an estimated 6 million adults in the United States.
Panic disorder can be very scary and debilitating, and many of the people which it affects say that a panic attack is a very physical experience, as well as mental, and feels just like a heart attack.
Symptoms Of Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is most easily recognized by the occurrence of regular panic attacks.
In between panic attacks, someone with panic disorder will suffer from anxiety knowing that another will most likely follow at some point in the future.
Signs and symptoms of a panic attack include:
- racing heartbeat
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- racing thoughts
- feelings of fear or terror
- excessive sweating
- nausea or vomiting
Panic attacks will affect everyone differently but can be quite debilitating, oftentimes affecting a person’s work, school, and personal relationships.
Signs Of Addiction
Someone with panic disorder may be tempted to turn to alcohol or drugs, and depressants in particular, as a way to soothe their anxiety between panic attacks or even during one.
Signs and symptoms of addiction include:
- secretiveness or lying about drugs
- visible drug paraphernalia
- extreme mood changes
- weight loss or gain
- sleeping more than usual or at odd times
- changes in social group
- financial instability
- preoccupation with drugs or alcohol
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The signs and symptoms of addiction will vary from person to person and depend greatly on the substance which they are using or abusing.
What Causes Co-Occurring Addiction And Panic Disorder?
The causes for co-occurring addiction and panic disorder will vary from person to person, but there are a few shared risk factors that a person can look out for.
Shared risk factors for addiction and panic disorder include:
- family history of mental illness or substance abuse
- recent trauma
- high stress
- personality type
- presence of other mental health disorders
People most often develop a panic disorder in early adulthood (after age 20), right around the time they might find themselves exposed more frequently to drugs and alcohol as well.
Panic disorder and substance abuse may often be co-occurring, but that does not mean that one exclusively causes the other.
Some may turn to drugs and alcohol for relief from panic disorder, while others might not find themselves struggling with panic attacks until after they are already deep in addiction.
How Common Is Co-Occurring Addiction and Panic Disorder?
It is estimated that currently, about 6 million adults in the United States are suffering from panic disorder. Onset usually occurs in a person’s early twenties, and women are twice as likely to develop the disorder as men.
Studies show that:
- about 30% of people with panic disorder abuse alcohol
- about 17% abuse drugs
- Those who do abuse drugs are most likely to turn to depressants, such as opioids and barbiturates
Though not mutually exclusive, in most cases the diagnosis of panic disorder precedes the diagnosis of substance abuse or addiction.
This is because those who are already suffering from mental illness turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication.
How Is Co-Occurring Addiction And Panic Disorder Diagnosed?
While panic attacks are one of the most prominent symptoms of panic disorder, not everyone who has panic attacks has panic disorder. Along the same lines, not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol is suffering from addiction.
An official diagnosis for both panic disorder and addiction will usually require more than one visit with a clinician.
Methods for diagnosing addiction and panic disorder include:
- a complete physical examination
- a complete psychological evaluation
- blood tests to look for the presence of any other conditions
- any other testing the clinician feels necessary given the patient’s symptoms (EKG, MRI, etc)
Treating Co-Occurring Addiction And Panic Disorders
When treating someone with co-occurring conditions such as addiction and panic disorder, it is very important to treat both conditions in unison.
Dual diagnosis treatment is an effective option for treating mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders simultaneously.
Dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and panic disorder may include:
- medically supervised detox
- dual diagnosis group therapy
- family therapy
- individual cognitive behavioral therapy
- workshops for mindfulness and stress reduction
It is important to treat both panic disorder and addiction at the same time in order to lower the likelihood of relapse.
If you or a loved one is struggling with panic disorder and addiction at the same time, there is dual diagnosis treatment available to help.
Dual diagnosis treatment is offered in these settings:
- inpatient treatment centers
- residential rehab centers
- outpatient rehab centers
- individual treatment providers
If you would like to speak with one of our knowledgeable and understanding representatives to find out how you can get started on the right track, call our helpline today.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America — Understanding Panic Disorder
- Fear and Anxiety Disorder Clinic — Panic Disorder
- National Library of Medicine — Panic Disorder After the End of Chronic Alcohol Abuse: A Report of 2 Cases
- National Library of Medicine — Relationship between substance abuse and panic attacks
- ScienceDirect — Substance abuse and panic-related anxiety: A critical review