“Alcohol Panic Attacks”

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A subscriber to the Panic Attack Recovery Newsletter asked “Is there a link between alcohol and panic attacks?”

First of all, you may be asking why do I use the phrase alcohol panic attacks?

In this article I want to discuss the phrase “alcohol panic attacks”.

Well, given that alcohol is a means of escape, some people are drawn to it for this very reason.   Some sufferers of panic attacks do seem to be drawn to alcohol. There does seem to be a correlation in some cases between alcohol and panic attacks.

Consider the following:

Brady and Lydiard (1993) pointed out that research has proven a stronger association than what would be left to chance between alcohol and panic attacks.  There is also an overlap in the symptoms of panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and alcohol withdrawal.

They stated:

This observation from research studies has led to speculation about common neurochemical perturbations and a kindling phenomenon as a possible connection between these disorders. Cognitive theories have been used to connect alcohol abuse and phobic disorders. Treatment of patients with co-morbid anxiety and alcoholism is discussed.

“Research has proven a stronger association than what would be left to chance between alcohol and panic attacks.”

George, Nutt, et. al (1990) indicate that studies on alcoholic patients have found a higher than expected prevalence of panic disorder, and suggest a positive correlation between the level of alcohol consumption and severity of anxiety. Conversely, there is an increased prevalence of alcoholism among patients with panic disorder and their blood relatives. A comparison of symptoms, physiological and neurochemical changes known to occur in both alcohol withdrawal and panic disorder reveals a degree of similarity between the 2 conditions.

Based on the data, we propose that the chemical and cognitive changes occurring as the result of repeated alcohol withdrawals may kindle and condition coincidence of panic attacks in susceptible individuals. Implications of our postulates for treatment of alcohol withdrawal and panic disorder in alcoholics and for future studies are discussed.

Kushner, Setter, et. al (2009) found that those with co-occuring alcohol dependency and panic disorder were helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). When trials were conducted after 30 days, both the number of individuals meeting the criteria for panic disorder and the number of individuals meeting the criteria for alcohol dependency had decreased.  good lead in to cbt.

I would recommend that if you have not considered CBT that you give it a shot.  In a nutshell the process is the following:

  • locate the cognitive distortions that cause your anxiety, panic attacks, etc.
  • replace these thoughts with healthier and accurate thoughts that make you feel better

You can access more information about CBT and examples of it being applied by signing up for my free newsletter below.

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References (Alcohol Panic Attacks)

Kushner, M., Sletten, S. Donahue, C., Thuras, P., Maurer, E., Schneider, Frye, A., Van Demark, J.
Addict Behav. 2009 ; 34(6-7): 554–560. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2009.03.011.
Retrievable from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810649/

Psychiatr Q. 1993 Summer; 64(2):135-49. The association of alcoholism and anxiety. Brady KT, Lydiard RB.
Retrievable from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8316598

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1990 Feb; 81(2):97-107. Alcoholism and panic disorder: is the comorbidity more than coincidence? George DT, Nutt DJ, Dwyer BA, Linnoila M.
Retrievable from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2183544