Substance Abuse and Panic Disorder

Written by StoneCrest Center’s clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LPC

girl-690327_640When mentioned in conversation, the use of the word “panic” can cause individuals to think of or imagine a frantic person experiencing overwhelming feelings of anxiety. At some point in every person’s life, feeling panicked and being that individual moving about in a frenzied manner has likely happened, though such feelings or sensations often dissipate and do not prevent healthy day-to-day functioning from occurring.

However, there are individuals who experience panic to such a degree that completing the most mundane of tasks can be ripe with obstacles. When feelings of panic, more commonly referred to as panic attacks, occur unexpectedly on a recurrent basis, a person is likely suffering from panic disorder.

The Definition of Panic Disorder

According to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, panic disorder is classified as an anxiety disorder that consists of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Increase or decrease in body temperature
  • Tingly sensations
  • Feeling as though one is on the verge of losing control
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Perspiring
  • Shaking
  • Upset stomach
  • Feeling unattached to one’s surroundings or out-of-body
  • Feeling unable to breathe
  • Feeling as though one is being choked
  • Tightness in one’s chest
  • Feeling as though doom or death is near

When These Symptoms Become a Panic Disorder

foot-538324_640When four or more of these symptoms are present and a person experiences profound fear and/or worry that these symptoms will return after they have subsided, or goes to great lengths to alter his or her behavior in order to prevent the reoccurrence of symptoms, panic disorder is likely the culprit.

Trying to cope with the symptoms of this disorder without treatment and guidance from professionals will likely result in the worsening of symptoms over time and the onset of other detrimental concerns. One such concern that is frequent among untreated sufferers of panic disorder is the development of substance abuse or chemical dependency problems.

When an individual is battling both panic disorder and a substance use disorder, the adversities that are known to result can be monumental.

Who Are The People That Are Suffering?

Research estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of individuals grappling with panic disorder abuse substances and that somewhere between 10 and 40 percent of individuals who seek treatment specifically for an alcohol abuse problem are suffering from this distressing mental illness at the same time.

And while some research suggests that the use and abuse of certain substances can trigger the onset of panic disorder, it is far more common for this condition to cause a person to turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a means of coping with their turmoil.

The Problems that Stem from Panic Attacks

fear-615989_640Symptoms of panic disorder are known to be emotionally taxing and can impact an individual’s ability to live a life that is not seemingly wrought with trepidation. The unexpectedness of these symptoms when they do occur significantly contributes to the anxiety felt by sufferers in between panic attacks, as it is rarely known what will cause the onset of a panic attack in the first place.

Furthermore, those who are in the throes of a panic attack simply want relief when overcome with feelings of fright and distressing physical sensations. In lieu of these factors, the abuse of substances offers sufferers the temporary mental escape that they desire.

However, prolonged abuse of drugs and/or alcohol will likely result in addiction, of which carry its own obstacles and detriments as well.

Panic Disorder Responds Well to Treatment

What is important to know, however, is that panic disorder and substance abuse are very treatable concerns that respond well to treatment. Depending on the severity of a person’s panic disorder symptoms and severity of addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, certain treatment options may be more appropriate than others.

Generally speaking, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach that helps individuals understand and alter the manner in which thoughts impact behavior and vice versa, is extremely effective in treating panic disorder and is widely used in treatment centers’ programming.

This same approach is also effective in helping people combat chemical dependency concerns when it is incorporated into a person’s treatment, as it can help people understand how their mental health can lead to a compulsion to use and/or abuse substances.

The Outcomes Are Good for Panic Disorder

Lady dealing with Panic DisorderSufferers of dual diagnosis, such as the combination of panic disorder and substance use disorders, can benefit greatly from seeking treatment.

Whether it is within an inpatient program or outpatient care, the long-term advantages that come with learning how to cope with this mental health condition and acquiring the skills needed to sustain recovery can vastly improve a person’s overall quality of life. By seeking and receiving a combination of mental health and substance abuse treatment, a person can finally anticipate a life that is not dominated by panic and addiction.




About the Author:

“Substance Abuse and Panic Disorder” was written by StoneCrest Center’s clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LPC. Heather has several years of experience working in the field of mental health as a psychotherapist and has her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Concordia University – Chicago.

About StoneCrest Center:

Located in Detroit, Michigan, StoneCrest Center is a 104-bed residential treatment center for adolescents, adults, and seniors who are struggling with severe psychiatric problems, co-occurring disorders, and cognitive impairments. StoneCrest services are provided within four distinct programs: the Foundations program for adolescents, the Restoration program for adults, the Generations program for seniors (ages 55 and above), and the Inspirations program for developmentally disabled individuals who are also struggling with behavioral health issues. The Inspirations program makes StoneCrest the only provider in the state of Michigan that provides offers programming specifically for adolescents with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. StoneCrest is accredited by the Joint Commission.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on April 21, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 8, 2021
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