Alcohol and panic attacks

Outlining and understanding the link between alcohol and panic attacks.

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Alcohol and panic attacks go hand-in-hand for some people, where one can lead to the other.

If you're concerned about your panic attacks and feel that you've been using alcohol as a way to manage them, it's important to understand the potential impact of this form of self-medication. There are healthier ways to manage your panic attacks, which won’t leave you at risk of damaging your health and wellbeing in the long run. Remember, having panic attacks is not a weakness; it's a condition which may need professional treatment.

If you've been drinking alcohol excessively, which has been leading to panic attacks, it's highly recommended that you reach out for help to deal with your drinking as soon as possible. Getting professional support can be a positive step for you to take to regain control of your life.

Why alcohol is an unhealthy coping mechanism for panic attacks

Panic attack symptoms are extremely scary, causing many people to experience chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, vision problems, nausea, diarrhoea, and often a fear that they're going to die.

While alcohol can lessen or put a stop to the anxious thoughts that often lead to panic attacks, drinking will only ever be a temporary fix. It will stop working once the alcohol leaves your body, and if you continually drink to quash your panic attacks, this can lead to long-term damage.

Self-medicating your panic attacks in this way can leave you psychologically dependent on alcohol, as you come to rely on it to keep your anxious thoughts and feelings at bay. You become vulnerable to physical dependency too. You may have already found that you're having to drink larger quantities to get rid of your anxiety, or are now drinking to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

If you've been drinking alcohol to manage panic attacks, it's time to think about different ways to deal with your emotions, as alcohol is an extremely unhealthy and dangerous way of doing so.

Do you suffer from alcohol-induced panic attacks?

Drinking alcohol can also trigger panic attacks. While many people do feel some anxiety after drinking, regular alcohol-induced panic attacks are a serious matter.

If you're frequently getting panic attacks after consuming alcohol, it's important to take a step back and look at your drinking. If you've been unable to stop, despite the regular panic attacks that alcohol has caused, it's recommended that you seek professional help to deal with the issue.

How to stop alcohol abuse and manage panic attacks more effectively

At Priory, our specialists regularly meet with people experiencing both alcohol issues and mental health concerns. During an initial assessment, they'll talk to you about your alcohol use and panic attacks in order to provide you with access to the most effective course of treatment at one of our hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and wellbeing centres.

A treatment plan may include some of the following elements:

  • An addiction treatment programme – when dealing with alcohol misuse or addiction and panic attacks, a residential stay at one of our rehabilitation clinics can provide you with time and space away from your everyday life to understand why you drink, and learn strategies for managing life going forward without alcohol. Through group sessions, workshops and individual working time, you can start to learn more about the impact that alcohol is having on you and the people around you, and discover ways to live your life without it
  • Therapy sessions – our therapy programmes provide you with a safe and supportive space to explore personal issues, connect with your feelings and learn strategies to manage your alcohol use and panic attacks. We have day care programmes – which people can attend for full or half day sessions – as well as weekly sessions that typically last for an hour
  • Medication – non-addictive medication may also be recommended in conjunction with therapy sessions, depending on the severity of your panic attacks

Our flexible treatment options mean that if you're struggling with alcohol use and panic attacks, you can get access to the support you need in order to get your life back on track.

Page clinically reviewed by Dr Patrick Mbaya (MB ChB, MSc, MD, FRCPsych, Cert. Psychopharmacology), Lead Consultant for Addictions at Priory Hospital Altrincham

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