Panic Disorder and Addiction Treatment

Usually we imagine mental health disorders to be illnesses without physical manifestation, an interior experience that exists soley in the mind. Panic Disorder disrupts that notion as psychiatric illness suddenly finds somatic expression through a host of uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms that severely compromise your ability to live a fulfilling and stable life. When drug addiction enters the picture, the situation becomes infinitely more complicated.

If you or your loved one is struggling with substance addiction and co-occurring Panic Disorder, we invite you to contact us at any time to learn more about your treatment options.

When Fear Becomes Physical

Panic Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by periodic episodes of acute overwhelming fear that manifests in both emotional and physical symptoms. The intensity of the somatic symptoms is sometimes so severe that people experiencing a panic attack believe they are having a heart attack or other medical emergency. Although panic attacks are often preceded by specific triggers, such as public speaking, flying, stressful social situations, or being in small, confined spaces, they may also occur at random, without a known cause. Regardless of how a panic attack begins, they can be extremely frightening and seriously impact your ability to function socially and professionally.

The causes of Panic Disorder are likely a combination of biology and environment. For many, it emerges following a period of overwhelming stress or trauma, and it frequently co-occurs with other mental health disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and social anxiety disorder. In other cases, however, there is no known point of origin.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

What Panic Disorder looks like is more uniform than many other mental health disorders, but there are still variations in how each person experiences the condition. Typical symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal upset
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in your body
  • Feeling removed from  your environment
  • Feeling as if you are dying

While Panic Disorder is at its core a psychological phenomenon, some people are not aware of the emotional component of their panic attack at the time it is happening.

Panic Disorder and Drug Addiction

Distress from previous panic attacks and fear of future attacks cause many to turn to illicit drugs or alcohol in an attempt to alleviate psychological pain and avoid the reemergence of symptoms. Whether you start drinking to calm your nerves, use cocaine to give you back your confidence, or turn to opioids to numb feelings of discomfort, drugs can offer an alluring escape from the overwhelming emotions of Panic Disorder. Unfortunately, relief is often short-lived; many people experience panic attacks as the result of drug use, exacerbating symptoms and extending your suffering. Once addiction has established itself, however, it’s not simply a matter of deciding to stop.

But recreational drug use isn’t the only danger Panic Disorder brings; the most common pharmacological treatments used to alleviate panic symptoms—benzodiazepines—are known to be highly addictive, particularly the fast-acting, short-lasting varieties recommended to treat acute distress. While some people are able to gain real and meaningful therapeutic benefits from these medications, for others they become a new source of pain as addiction takes hold.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

There is a broad variety of treatments available for Panic Disorder that can greatly alleviate symptoms and reduce recurrence. When Panic Disorder and addiction co-occur, however, dual diagnosis treatment is necessary to achieve long-term emotional tranquility and restore healthy function.

Until relatively recently, addiction and mental health disorders were typically treated separately. Today, however, we know that that approach is unlikely to yield the best outcomes, as it ignores the complex interactions between the two conditions and often leaves the roots of your suffering intact. Dual diagnosis treatment takes a more modern approach by addressing both addiction and mental health disorders simultaneously seeing to the full scope of your needs and creating a strong foundation for ongoing recovery. Because each person’s experience is unique, dual diagnosis treatment must be tailored to your individual experience to ensure that you are able to fully engage in the therapeutic process. The most effective therapeutic modalities for people struggling with Panic Disorder and addiction include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

Pharmacological treatments are often an integral part of Panic Disorder treatment. Due to the addictive potential of certain medications, however, it is imperative to work closely with a psychiatrist specializing in addiction medicine to ensure that your medication plan is safe and effective.

By exploring both your Panic Disorder and drug addiction at the same time, you are able to more fully understand the impact each has had on your life and the ways in which the two overlap and augment each other. In doing so, you are not only able to reach deeper levels of self-awareness, but can also begin to develop real strategies for coping with triggers, stress, and overwhelming emotions in healthy, productive ways that restore your sense of agency and reduce fear. Because both Panic Disorder and drug addiction can distort your relationship with your physical self, dual diagnosis treatment often includes body-focused therapies that help you repair that relationship and become more comfortable in your own skin.

To preserve the gains made in treatment and set the stage for ongoing recovery, it is vital that you leave treatment with a well-developed continuing care plan that includes the resources you need to prevent relapse of both your Panic Disorder and your drug addiction. This plan may include outpatient therapy, 12-step support groups, or sober living environments as well as detailed plans for how to deal with the stresses of everyday life without resorting to self-destructive behaviors. With proper care and ongoing support, you can achieve true transformation and create a richer, more fulfilling life.

If you have questions about addiction and Panic Disorder or dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are always available to offer guidance as you start your recovery journey.