Panic attacks can be extremely upsetting for people. This is something that many individuals will experience at least once in their life – it is suggested that 5% of the population suffer from some type of panic disorder. There are many things that can trigger a panic attack but one of these is alcohol abuse. This is worrying because those who suffer from these uncomfortable symptoms often turn to alcohol for solace.
Panic Attack Explained
A panic attack occurs when people experience a sudden and intense feeling of fear. This fear is accompanied by unpleasant symptoms that can make the individual feel like they are completely out of control. This type of attack is usually an exaggerated response to a threat that isn’t in the immediate environment.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
The symptoms of a panic attack may include:
* The person having the attack may feel like they are about to die.
* Problems with breathing. The individual may suffer from shortness of breath or hyperventilation (this is when they breathe too fast).
* Feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness.
* Feelings of numbness or tingling in the hands.
* Nausea and vomiting.
* Muscles in the body can become tense.
* The individual may look pale because blood is being diverted away from non- critical areas.
* Feeling of choking.
* The individual may experience a pounding pulse.
* They may experience a dry mouth.
* The individual feels more alert as if they were under attack.
* They become easily startled.
* The person may feel like they are going insane.
* Heart palpitations and chest pain – the individual may feel like they are having a heart attack.
* Ringing in the ears.
* The individual may develop an intense need to go to the toilet.
* Hot or cold flashes.
* The individual may feel like they are out of control. They may worry about doing something irrational but not being able to stop themselves.
* They may get a sudden need to escape their current location.
* The individual may feel like they are experiencing everything in a dreamlike state – nothing seems real.
In most instances these symptoms will disappear within 20 minutes – the symptoms tend to peak at about 10 minutes.
Causes of a Panic Attack
There can be a number of causes of panic attack including:
* Alcohol abuse and binge drinking.
* Anxiety disorders
* Drug withdrawals.
* People who are dealing with excessive worry in their life.
* Individuals who are going through major changes in their life.
* Death of a loved one.
* Some people experience these attacks due to jet lag.
* Post traumatic stress disorder.
* Thyroid problems.
* Anemia – this is where the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.
* Some people are genetically predisposed to having this type of attack.
* Those individuals who experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child will be more prone to these attacks.
* Traumatic event such as being mugged or raped.
* Some people of personalities that make them more prone to such attacks. They may be chronic worriers.
* People with unstable blood sugars may experience such attacks if their blood sugar falls to low. This can also occur if people have been fasting or not eating properly.
* Some people over breathe (hyperventilation) and this can trigger an attack.
* Some prescription medications have been shown to cause panic attacks as an unwanted side effect – for example, some antidepressant medications.
* If people are in chronic pain then this can cause them to have such attacks.
Complications Due to Frequent Panic Attacks
If people are having regular panic attacks it can become a serious disruption in their life. The complications associated with such attacks include:
* Those people who have regular panic attacks are more likely to turn to alcohol or drug abuse. This can exacerbate the problem.
* It interferes with the ability of the individual to find happiness in life.
* It can lead to symptoms of depression.
* The individual may become suicidal and some will commit suicide.
* It leads to problems at work or at school.
* The disruption of these attacks can interfere with the ability of the individual to make money and advance in their career.
* It interferes with the individual’s ability to form meaningful relationships.
* It may limit their movements. They may even become unwilling to travel to anywhere in case they have a panic attack.
* The individual may develop a phobia about leaving the house.
* They may feel the need to avoid social situations.
Alcohol and Panic Attacks
There is a strong link between alcohol and panic attacks. Those people who suffer from anxiety and such attacks are often tempted to turn to alcohol as a solution. This type of self medication is common. In the beginning drinking does appear to lessen anxiety, and the individual may also believe that it is preventing their panic attacks. Over time the dampening effect of alcohol begins to disappear. The individual discovers that alcohol is the worst possible solution to their attacks, but by then they may feel unable to stop drinking.
Those who abuse alcohol to manage their panic attacks become caught in a vicious cycle. Their drinking leads to increasing problems in their life, and this then becomes a source of more anxiety. The individual responds to this by drinking even more which leads to further problems. As the person becomes addicted they develop a tolerance to alcohol – this means that they have to drink more to get the same effect. The individual’s life becomes completely out of control. Not only do they have their panic attacks to deal with but also alcoholism.
It is also common for people to develop panic attacks for the first time as a result of alcohol abuse. Those who binge drink may find that they suffer attacks in the days after a big night out. Some people experience them as part of their hangover, and they can be intense because they are combined with all the other unpleasant symptoms that accompany the morning after. Some people who experience panic attacks the next day do so because they are in the early stages of withdrawal – these are individuals who have already become physically dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol Withdrawals and Panic Attacks
Alcohol withdrawals refer to unpleasant symptoms that occur when alcoholics try to stop drinking or when the alcohol level in their blood falls significantly. Many alcoholics will experience early withdrawal symptoms as part of their hangover, but the symptoms will disappear as soon as they start drinking. This is a common reason for why such individuals will feel the need to drink as soon as they wake up. Some individuals will experience panic attacks as part of their withdrawal symptoms.
How to Deal with a Panic Attack
If people are having a panic attack there are steps they can take to deal with it including:
* The individual should try to find a comfortable position. If possible they should try to sit down.
* They need to try to relax their breathing. This may be easier to do if they place one hand over their chest and another over their diaphragm.
* Take slow deep breaths through their nose.
* Count to five as they are breathing in and breathing out.
* They should focus on relaxing their muscles.
* The individual can attempt to focus completely on their toes. Their attention is likely to keep wandering but they need to gently bring their focus back to their toes each time.
* Go for a walk.
* Do yoga or some other exercise.
In order to get the most from these techniques the individual should practice them every day. That way when they do have a panic attack they will automatically know what to do.
How to Avoid Panic Attacks
There are things that people can do to help them avoid panic attacks such as:
* Do not overindulge in alcohol or use recreational drugs. People should never attempt to self medicate these attacks using any mind altering substance.
* It is important that the individual understands what is causing their panic attacks. One way they can get a clearer picture of what is happening is by keeping a journal where they can record times and what happened prior to the attack – that way they may be able to spot patterns.
* It is best to avoid caffeine.
* The individual should be careful with their diet – this is particular important if they are prone to unstable blood sugars.
* Learn meditation or some other type of relaxation technique.
* Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective at helping people overcome these attacks.
* If people are suffering these symptoms because of alcohol withdrawals they should find that things settle down after a couple of weeks. If the individual remains sober there is no reason why they should ever have to deal with the problem again.
* Certain drugs have proved effective at helping people overcome this problem.
* Increasing self esteem and learning to be more assertive can mean people are less likely to suffer such attacks.
* Those individuals who are dealing with chronic pain should speak to their physician about better ways to manage their pain.
* If people are taking prescribed medication that seems to be triggering these attacks they should speak to their physician. It is usually not a good idea to stop the medication without first speaking to a doctor.