Panic Disorder and Drug Addiction

panic disorder

Any mental health condition deserves attention; when an individual suffers from two conditions at once, an immediate response is necessary. This situation is known as a dual diagnosis, a concurrent diagnosis of two distinct mental health conditions. One dual diagnosis that is not uncommon among people struggling with substance abuse is a diagnosis of panic disorder and drug addiction. Sometimes drug abuse itself has caused the panic disorder to develop. But in most cases, someone suffering from panic disorder may attempt to self-medicate with illicit drugs. No matter the initial cause, simultaneous treatment for both aspects of the dual diagnosis is critical for a full recovery. In this page, we discuss the dual diagnosis of drug addiction and panic disorder.

Panic Disorder Definition

Panic disorder is a condition in which an individual experiences the “fight-or-flight” response even when there is no real threat to that person. This type of reaction would normally be caused by a true threat to safety, such as an attack or a natural disaster. The fight-or-flight response prepares the body to flee the threat or face it head on. People with a panic disorder experience the effects of this response as a reaction to innocuous “threats” such as meeting new people, public speaking, riding on an elevator or escalator, taking public transportation, or driving. While these situations are not, in fact, threatening, they feel terrifying to the individual. Their panicked response is known as a panic attack and feels much like a heart attack. They feel as if they are dying. Panic disorder symptoms include:

  • Nervousness
  • Feeling of impending doom
  • Feeling disconnected from reality
  • Terror
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular or pounding heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Paranoia

Even if the person suffering from a panic disorder knows on a rational level that there is no true threat, their experience is one of true terror and feels very real, as though their lives are in danger. While anyone may suffer a panic attack at some point in their lives, people with panic disorder suffer from them on a regular basis. The typical rate of panic attacks for people with panic disorder is one attack a week for four weeks or more. Because of the regularity with which they suffer from panic attacks, people with panic disorder often live in fear of having another panic attack.

Causes of Panic Disorder

There is no single known cause of panic disorder. Factors that may influence whether or not an individual develops a panic disorder include:

  • Genetics or a family history of panic disorders
  • Major life stressor, such as a family member with a chronic illness or close to death
  • Major life trauma, such as rape, assault, or serious accident
  • Major life event, such as a birth or divorce
  • History of childhood abuse, either physical or sexual
  • Smoking or excessive caffeine intake

Panic Disorder and Drug Abuse

It is fairly common for people suffering from a panic disorder to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from their stressful symptoms. They may feel that the numbness caused by substance abuse provides respite from their panic attacks or wards off fear of having another attack. It is easy to segue from drug abuse to drug addiction. As many as 10 to 40 percent of people with a panic disorder struggle with alcoholism, and as many as 10 to 20 percent struggle with other substance abuse. Unfortunately, while substance abuse may provide temporary relief from panic disorder symptoms, in the long run alcohol and drug abuse only trigger more panic attacks, furthering the problem. Substance abuse offers no real escape from panic attacks; it only contributes to more difficulties.

Treatment from Panic Disorder and Drug Abuse

For people with a dual diagnosis of panic disorder and drug abuse, treatment for both conditions is critical. Focusing on just one condition will most likely lead to relapse of both. If treatment is sought for substance abuse alone, then the underlying triggers of the panic disorder will continue to occur and prompt further drug abuse. If treatment is sought for just the panic disorder, the individual will still be physically addicted to drugs. Treatment for both conditions can help the individual to physically detox from drugs, receive appropriate treatment for the panic disorder, and learn healthy coping skills for the future.

Treatment for panic disorder usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Medications that have been shown to effectively treat panic disorder include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines. SSRIs and SNRIs are better choices for people with a dual diagnosis of panic disorder and drug abuse because they come with little potential for abuse. Benzodiazepines are more commonly abused and should be avoided in people already struggling with drug abuse. Psychotherapy can help the individual to understand why they suffer from panic attacks, what triggers a panic attack for them personally, and teach them specific skills to handle a panic attack when one occurs.

In-patient rehab is the best option when searching for treatment from drug abuse. Staying at a residential facility allows the person to escape from daily stressors such as work and family, avoid temptation, and focus on treatment. They can detox under supervision from medical professionals and, once detox is over, begin to focus on sober living. A combination of group and individual therapy works for many people. Through individual therapy, people can learn why they turned to drug abuse, what triggers their abuse, and how to avoid those triggers in the future and utilize healthy coping skills instead. Group therapy provides support from other people going through similar situations.

At Blu By The Sea, we offer all the services you need if you suffer from a dual diagnosis of panic disorder and drug addiction. Our medical staff can help you through the detox process and determine whether or not you would benefit from medication to treat panic disorder. Our counseling staff offers both individual and group therapy to help you cope with panic disorder and drug addiction. In addition, we have a host of complementary therapies to help you heal as a whole person. Our chef offers nutritious meals that will reverse any nutritional deficits you may have suffered as a result of your drug abuse. You can heal and strengthen your body by utilizing our gym, walking on the beach, or taking advantage of our yoga classes. Our holistic approach is designed to focus on healing your whole self, not just the drug addiction or just the panic disorder, leaving you better prepared for sober living on your own. If you or someone you love struggles with panic disorder and drug addiction, call Blu By The Sea today. We are ready to help you.