What Should You Know About an Alcohol Induced Panic Attack?

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

What you should know about an alcohol-induced panic attack:

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is estimated that approximately 2.7% of adults in the United States suffer from panic disorder. Women are twice as likely as men to experience this condition.

Panic attacks can lead to intense anxiety, feelings of dissociation, and fear of losing control. Alcohol consumption before or during these episodes can make things more complicated.

One of the many dangers of alcohol is that it can cause panic attacks. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to overcome and prevent this scenario. Let’s explore the key information you should know about dealing with an alcohol-induced panic attack.

What Is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms despite no apparent danger. The nervous system is activated causing heart palpitations, trembling, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, lightheadedness, and other uncomfortable sensations that can make a person feel like they are losing control physically and emotionally. One of the most distressing factors about having panic attacks is how they seem to come out of the blue which further perpetuates the experience of being out of control.

It is common for people to mistake the intense symptoms of a panic attack as a heart attack or a psychotic episode. Although it’s not uncommon for people to experience one or two panic attacks during their lifetime, some individuals must deal with them regularly.

Given their unpredictable nature, people who suffer with panic disorder find that the anticipation of the next wave of panic is generally worse than the panic itself. The good news is that people can learn how to effectively manage their anxiety and stop their panic attack with the proper education and therapy tools.  

How Does Alcohol Contribute?

Alcohol affects the levels of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, creating an initial calming effect. This substance acts as a depressant, slowing down the central nervous system and making you feel less inhibited in a variety of settings. 

You may feel more comfortable in social situations or in new surroundings that would ordinarily trigger stress and anxiety. It is possible that you also feel happier when you’re intoxicated.

Unfortunately, as the alcohol levels wear off, there is a decrease in the inhibiting effects of the neurotransmitters, and the brain interprets the shift as threatening. As the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) lowers, the fight or flight response is activated, triggering a panic attack.

Alcohol-induced panic attacks can compel people to binge drink to cope with the intense symptoms. However, the more you drink, the more you perpetuate the  cycle of alcohol-induced anxiety.

If you are experiencing an alcohol-related panic attack, stop drinking immediately. Your ability to manage the symptoms of a panic attack becomes much less difficult without alcohol in your system.

Panic Attack Symptoms

It’s crucial to gain a proper understanding of how the sympathetic nervous system can sometimes activate false alarms, triggering symptoms of a panic attack. By obtaining clinical knowledge about your anxiety symptoms, you can help manage the intensity and abort any misguided ideas that your body is in danger. Below are some examples of how panic attacks can manifest in the body.

Difficulty Breathing

People experiencing a panic attack often have difficulty breathing. They may find it hard to get enough oxygen into their lungs no matter how deeply they inhale . It’s best to focus on taking slow, deep breaths to avoid hyperventilating.

Weakness or Dizziness

Perceived weakness is another common symptom. Although there are no notable neurological or physiological changes that have caused your body to be less functional, your faulty perception can convince you that you lack energy to complete basic tasks. You may also feel dizzy, making walking and standing difficult.

Chest Pain

Panic attacks can cause people to have chest pain. This feels like intense tightness, and the sensation is similar to a muscle cramp. Chest pain may worsen when taking deep breaths, but it is important to still focus on taking slow, rhythmic abdominal breaths.

Nausea

Panic attacks can lead to nausea, which can sometimes cause vomiting. Some people develop a sour or unpleasant taste in their mouth. Others feel sick to their stomach. In most cases, people find it difficult to eat or drink.

Racing Heart

A racing heart is one of the most distressing concerns among people who have panic attacks. A person’s resting heart rate may increase substantially during a wave of anxiety. For example, a normal resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute (bpm) might increase to 120 bpms.

The rapid pulse and strong palpitations can trigger visits to the emergency room. However, this is a temporary symptom that will likely subside shortly after it begins.

Tingling or Numbness

Tingling and numbness can occur in the peripheral limbs, most notably in the hands and feet. In rare cases, these sensations can cause difficulty with gait, clumsiness and fine motor difficulties. Due to poor circulation, extremities might feel cold and clammy.

Preventing Alcohol-Related Episodes

Although alcohol-related panic attacks can cause major distress, there are steps you can take to prevent them. It’s essential to keep these tips in mind so you can avoid complications you may have otherwise encountered. Let’s take a closer look.

Track Your Alcohol Consumption

As previously mentioned, your level of alcohol consumption plays a large role in your risk of panic attacks. Assess how much you regularly drink and keep track of this amount. This can help you identify patterns and triggers.

Reduce Your Alcohol Intake

Regardless of how much you drink, you should still aim to reduce your intake. Various resources recommend a maximum of one or two drinks per day, though it may be more beneficial to eliminate consumption if possible.

Maintain Your Reduced Consumption Levels

Be consistent in your reduced levels of alcohol consumption. It might be challenging at first, especially for those who are used to regular heavy drinking. Do your best to minimize your alcohol consumption.

Review Your Situation

After you’ve spent time adjusting to your lifestyle changes, assess your situation. Have your panic attacks become less frequent? If they do occur, are the symptoms as intense as they used to be?

If all goes well, you should see a significant improvement in both frequency and intensity. If not much has changed, look for consistencies in panic attack triggers so you can avoid them in the future.

Don’t Neglect an Alcohol-Induced Panic Attack

Your situation may seem hopeless at first when suffering from an alcohol-induced panic attack. The information above can help ensure you take the appropriate course of action.

Schedule your appointment today at Advanced Behavioral Health. We have the tools and resources to assess your situation and connect you with the ideal solution.

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