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Opening April 2019

Panic Disorder and Addiction

It is very common for people to suffer from both a panic disorder and addiction. When these issues occur together, they are very difficult to treat. However, that does not mean that treating them is impossible. The addition of drugs or alcohol can easily make a panic disorder so much worse. Patients who present with both are at a very high risk for medical complications because of their conditions. They're also at a high risk of overdosing if they decide to quit on their own.

Panic Disorder

For someone who suffers from a panic disorder, they often live their lives in fear. Their attacks can strike at any minute, and they generally occur without warning. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

2.7%

of the adult population in the United States suffer from a panic disorder.

44.8%

of these cases are considered to be severe.

59%

of people with panic disorders are receiving treatment for them.

41%

of these individuals are getting minimally adequate treatment.

This fact alone leaves them very susceptible to having an addiction.

In addition, the ADAA tells us that women are twice as likely to suffer from panic disorders as men. Panic disorders often occur alongside major depression. When this is the case, the comorbidity rate is very high.

About 28% of everyone who suffers from a panic disorder also suffers from addiction too. Clearly, this is a very serious situation that requires a specialized treatment method. Many people don't realize that there are a lot of options available for them for treatment.

Perhaps you're one of these people. You may or may not have a diagnosed panic disorder.

However, you know that you've been self-medicating your symptoms with drugs or alcohol. This is much more common that you probably realized.

Here at Northpoint Washington, we specialize in treating these co-occurring disorders. We understand how closely they are related, and we utilize the best treatment methods to help our patients. The fact is that continuing to use drugs or alcohol is only going to make your panic disorder worse. Treating both conditions at the same time is much more likely to result in your recovery. That is what makes dual diagnosis treatment so vital.

The information we've provided you with will help you to understand what panic disorder is. It will also give you insight into the best treatment methods available.

What is a Panic Disorder?

"A panic disorder goes from 0 to 100 in an instant. It's halfway between feeling like you'll faint and feeling like you'll die." Anonymous

The above quote easily explains the way that most people feel when they have a panic attack. It is a debilitating feeling that you feel powerless to escape from. According to WebMD, a panic disorder is a serious condition that can strike without reason or warning. The attacks are classified by feelings of dread and fear. Painful or uncomfortable physical symptoms can accompany them as well.

For someone who has a panic disorder, they live in constant fear of attacks. This results in shaky emotions that can quickly render them unstable. Sometimes the fear of the attacks can even become worse than the attacks themselves.

If you have been suffering from a panic disorder, you may not have even been aware of what they were. So many people allow their conditions to go undiagnosed and untreated. Being able to recognize panic attacks for what they are is the first step in getting the help you need.

What are the Different Types of Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are rarely the same each time they take place. They can be, and usually are, very different from each other. They can be brought on by difference circumstances. They can also last different amounts of time, and vary in their intensity.

The DSM-5 lists two separate types of panic attacks.

Like many mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is not a cut-and-dried condition. There are several different types of it. It's important for you to understand which one you may be suffering from. Finding out will help you to understand your situation and why you feel the way you do.


If you're someone who has expected panic attacks, you may be aware of what triggers them. These are caused by known fears that you're completely aware of. You may try to avoid them at all costs to prevent these attacks from occurring.

For example, if you have a fear of spiders (agoraphobia), you may expect a panic attack when you see one. Similarly, someone who is afraid of flying in an airplane may have a panic attack when boarding the plane. These attacks are very predictable, but that doesn't make them any easier to deal with.


Unexpected panic attacks usually occur without warning and without a real reason. When they happen, the individual can even be completely relaxed. Actually, this is the prime time for these attacks. Symptoms can start to develop slowly, or they can happen all at once.

If you suffer from this type of panic disorder, you may try hard to figure out what sets them off. Unfortunately, they don't have any internal cues. People generally don't experience any fearful thoughts prior to them. They also don't have any phobias or fears.

Once someone experiences a panic attack, it is a good indication that they will continue. As the condition progresses, unexpected panic attacks can even occur during a sound sleep at night.

Regardless of what type of panic attacks you're suffering from, you're undoubtedly aware of the issues they cause for you. Panic attacks place great limitations upon you. You begin to worry about future panic attacks. You start to avoid certain objects, places or people because you're afraid of setting one off. Eventually, loneliness and isolation sets in, and you feel helpless to do anything about it.

Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Disorder

Quite often, people aren't very familiar with the signs and symptoms of a panic disorder. Maybe you feel the same way. You know something isn't right, but you've never thought of it as a panic disorder that needed treatment.

It can be helpful to know what some of the symptoms of panic disorder are. They include:

  • Experiencing a fast heart rate or palpitations
  • Beginning to sweat excessively
  • Feeling shaky internally or externally
  • Becoming short of breath
  • Feeling as though you're being smothered
  • Feeling like you're choking
  • Having chest pain
  • Experiencing abdominal pain
  • Becoming very nauseous
  • Becoming lightheaded or dizzy
  • Feeling unsteady on your feet
  • Having hot flashes or chills
  • Experiencing depersonalization
  • Feeling like you're going crazy
  • Having a fear of losing control
  • Feeling as though you're going to die
  • Numbing or tingling throughout your body

Once these symptoms begin, they may come to a peak rapidly. After the attack is over, sufferers may have their symptoms taper off. It's still possible to remain in a very anxious state. This in itself can set off another panic attack, creating a vicious cycle.

Panic Disorder FAQ

Maybe you can relate to many of the symptoms on this list. If so, you may be wondering if what you have is a diagnosable panic disorder. It may be helpful to answer some questions based on your own experiences during attacks.

During your attacks, do you:

  • Ever feel a tightening in your chest?
  • Ever find it very hard to catch your breath?
  • Ever feel like you're going to die?
  • Have a sensation of impending doom?
  • Feel unable to explain what's happening to others?
  • Ever faint?
  • Feel dizzy, or like the room is spinning?
  • Feel like you're choking?
  • Have pain in your stomach?
  • Becoming nauseous or vomit?
  • Have hot or cold sweats?
  • Feel your heart racing?
  • Feel as though nothing that's happening around you is real?
  • Feel like you're losing your mind?

Answering yes to more than four of the above questions indicates that you might have a severe panic disorder. If you only answered yes to four or less questions, you may have a less severe case.

Getting treatment for a panic disorder is so important. These are not symptoms that you have to live with for the rest of your life. It is possible to get relief from them.

Obtaining immediate treatment if you feel you have a panic disorder is critical. There are so many different ways that doctors and therapists can utilize to treat this condition. These include:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is a form of therapy that can help panic attacks to subside. It is also known as talk therapy. It will offer the needed support and minimize fears that go along with panic attacks.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This type of therapy helps patients understand that the fears that accompany their panic attacks aren't real. Through CBT, patients eventually begin to see them as false alarms. Their emotional and physical responses to them tend to improve.
  • Medication Therapy: Some people find that talk therapy isn't enough to help them with their symptoms. This is especially true during the beginning part of treatment. For these patients, medication therapy is utilized as an effective way to treat panic disorders. There are different types of medications that have proven to be effective.
  • Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is somewhat controversial in that it exposes patients to the very things that are causing their attacks. Through repeated exposures, they learn that there's really nothing to be afraid of. This method must be very regulated and supervised. That way patients see that they have the needed support.
  • Panic Attack Prevention: Therapists may try a variety of different treatment methods to teach panic attack prevention. It can be helpful for patients to being to learn the early warning signs of panic attacks. Once they do, many of these attacks can be prevented. Some techniques may involve deep breathing, grounding and visualization.

Not all types of treatment are going to be appropriate for every patient. That's why it's so important to find a therapist who will tailor your treatment to your needs.

Generally, anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressant medications are the two that are frequently used to treat panic attacks. These medications can be very effective when they're taken as prescribed.

Anti-anxiety medications that are used to treat panic attacks include:

  • Xanax
  • Klonopin
  • Ativan
  • Valium
  • BuSpar

Anti-depressants that are used to treat panic attacks include:

  • Lexapro
  • Zoloft
  • Celexa
  • Paxil
  • Prozac

Even though so many of these drugs can be useful and effective, they do carry some warnings. If you look at the labels on them, you'll see that there is usually not much listed about addiction. However, it is possible to become addicted to them. Sometimes the addiction can be a psychological one, but that can produce physical symptoms just the same.

It's best to use these medications with caution. Never increase your dosage of them on your own, and take them only as prescribed. When at all possible, strive to only take them for a short period of time.

Researchers are still very unsure about the causes of panic disorder. They are usually caused by a number of different things.

  • Genetics: Mental illnesses like panic disorder and anxiety do tend to run in families. Someone who has a close relative suffering from panic disorder has a good chance of having it too. This is much like the risk of developing a condition like cancer or heart disease.
  • Stress: There are so many different types of stress that can contribute to instances of panic disorder. It can be something major like the loss of a loved one, getting fired from a job, or getting divorced. It can also be the result of a minor amount of stress.
  • Brain Chemical Imbalance: Sometimes panic disorder can be caused by issues in the brain. The most common areas affected are those that control the fight of flight response. When chemicals are imbalanced, a multitude of mental illnesses can result.
  • Drug or Alcohol Abuse: Substance abuse and panic disorder frequently go hand in hand. Actually, sometimes the addiction contributes to the panic disorder. It's not always the other way around.
  • No Cause at All: Sometimes there is just no reason for the panic disorder to develop. This is often a condition that occurs without reason. That is, perhaps, the most frustrating part about it for those who suffer from it.

If you do have a panic disorder, you might not be sure what caused it. A professional can help you understand why it happened to you.

Anxiety, panic disorder and addiction are often connected to one another. The question is, why?

For people who suffer from a panic disorder, they often feel desperate to get relief from their symptoms. If they fail to get the right type of treatment, choosing to use substances promises them hope. For a period of time, using substances may even prove to be quite effective.

As time goes on, using drugs or alcohol does tend to lose its effectiveness. In fact, it can actually lead to more anxiety, and more panic attacks. To counteract that, the user may increase how much he or she uses.

As you can see, this creates a terrible cycle that's very difficult to stop. It's also why getting treatment for co-occurring disorders is so important. Dual diagnosis treatment can make such a difference in people with panic disorders.

What Substances are Usually Misused by Someone with Panic Disorder?

For someone who has a panic disorder, the most commonly abused substances are those that have a calming effect. Alcohol is a very common choice, as is marijuana and some types of prescription drugs. Tranquilizers are also frequently used.

Dual diagnosis treatment, or integrative addiction treatment is the best option for treating these co-occurring disorders. Treating them separately is rarely effective, and the relapse rate is much higher. Dual diagnosis treatment ensures that both conditions receive treatment at the same time.

Integrative addiction treatment offers you the best chance for a successful recovery from both conditions.

Integrative Addiction Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders is Available

If you're suffering from panic disorder and addiction, there is help for your co-occurring disorder. When you have both of these conditions, it can almost feel as though you're stuck with them. You don't know how to treat the panic disorder, and substances seem like a viable option. Of course, if you've been using for any period of time, you know that's not true for long.

People with this co-occurring disorder usually find that their panic symptoms start to reappear. That leaves them feeling helpless and hopeless. At Northpoint Washington, that's not how we want you to feel. Our goal is to address both of your conditions through integrative addiction treatment. We've found that by offering dual diagnosis treatment, our patients experience a much greater rate of success. We'd love nothing more than for you to have that success too.

Are you ready to learn more about getting help for your addiction and panic disorder? If you are, we'd love to talk with you about how we can offer you our assistance. Please contact us today.

Northpoint Washington: Opening April 2019

Our facilities currently open for services:

Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint

Outpatient drug and alcohol rehab and addiction counseling located in Boise, Idaho.

Northpoint Recovery

Our National Medical Detox and Inpatient Addiction Facility.

The Evergreen at Northpoint

Outpatient drug and alcohol rehab and addiction counseling located in Washington State.