Alcohol and Panic Attacks: The Link and the Solution Presented Here

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

First, of all, research has revealed a correlation between the consumption of alcohol and panic attacks.  Furthermore there is much that can be done to help address this problem.  In this article, you will learn what you can do.

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The following is noteworthy: 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.  They also noted an overlap in the symptoms of panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and alcohol withdrawal.

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

Additionally, 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. There is also an increased prevalence of alcoholism among patients with panic disorder and their blood relatives. In addition, 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.

If you have a problem with the consumption of alcohol and panic attacks, there is a way out

First of all, it is very important to reach out for help from a professional if you have a problem misusing alcohol or any other substance.  This is especially relevant because you may have an undiagnosed or untreated condition that needs to be addressed in order to fully ensure your treatment with a dependency problem.  Therefore it is important to consult a professional.

In fact, there is research demonstrating that those with undiagnosed mood disorders and other conditions such as ADHD may be treating their conditions by self-medicating with substances such as alcohol and other drugs.  Therefore, if the underlying condition was treated one might not have developed a problem abusing alcohol in the first place.  Moreover, if one does not treat the underlying condition then they may not be successful in giving up their addiction.

How can one get started using CBT for alcohol and panic attacks?

Kushner, Setter, et. al (2009) found that those with co-occuring alcohol dependency and panic disorder were helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Most noteworthy, 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.

And another study found that ADHD symptom improvements correlated significantly with reductions in alcohol cravings, and relapse to alcohol abuse correlated significantly with worsening of most ADHD symptoms in the placebo group, but not in the atomoxetine group. If you help your ADHD symptoms, this may reduce alcohol cravings.

In conclusion, we recommend giving CBT a shot.  In a nutshell, to carry out the process you take the following steps:

  • 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 and get access to the 5 steps to recovery from anxiety and panic attacks by signing up for our free newsletter below.

References (Alcohol Panic Attacks)

Nutt D. 2012 Dec 11.  ADHD in Adults – Lecture 1 – Prof David Nutt, Imperial College, London
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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.
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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.
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Psychiatr Q. 1993 Summer; 64(2):135-49. The association of alcoholism and anxiety. Brady KT, Lydiard RB.
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Wilens, T. E., Adler, L. A., Tanaka, Y., Xiao, F., D’Souza, D. N., Gutkin, S. W., & Upadhyaya, H. P. (2011). Correlates of alcohol use in adults with ADHD and comorbid alcohol use disorders: exploratory analysis of a placebo-controlled trial of atomoxetine. Current medical research and opinion, 27(12), 2309–2320. doi:10.1185/03007995.2011.628648
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