Substance abuse can cause panic attacks to be more severe or more frequent. If the individual stops using the substance, the panic attacks may return and be worse than before.

People with panic disorder may use drugs or alcohol to temporarily relieve their symptoms, but there are dangers associated with self-medication. Learn more about the connection and risks of panic disorder and substance abuse.

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Panic Disorder Treatment

A substance use disorder hinders progress in treating most co-occurring disorders. People living with addiction are less likely to make appointments and adhere to treatment recommendations than people who do not have an addiction. For people who have a panic disorder, this hindrance may be more severe. Some people use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate during a panic attack. When the substance use stops, a person may experience panic attacks with greater intensity than they did before. This effect can cause doubts about treatment efficacy and potentially lead to treatment drop-out.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Panic Disorder Symptoms

Substance abuse can cause panic attacks to be more severe or more frequent. If the individual stops using the substance, the panic attacks may return and be worse than before. Substance use can exaggerate and intensify symptoms of panic disorder.

Panic Disorder and Alcohol

Alcohol is likely the most commonly used and abused substance. With the social acceptability of drinking and the relaxing effects of alcohol, it is not surprising that panic disorder and alcohol abuse disorders frequently co-occur. Often, an individual increases their alcohol use steadily over time to self-medicate for the anxiety-related panic disorder. When alcohol use stops, anxiety levels are likely to spike, and the probability of panic attacks rises.

Panic Disorder Marijuana

Marijuana is frequently used to treat panic disorders. Some people use marijuana to self-medicate and relieve anxiety. As many as half of the people who use marijuana to self-medicate their anxiety will experience increased anxiety and panic attacks.

Panic Disorder and Stimulants

Stimulants have one of the most profoundly damaging effects for people with panic disorder. Common stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamine, ecstasycocaine and methamphetamine. The use of stimulants increases feelings of anxiety and causes changes in the body that mimic panic attacks. For someone who has experienced a panic attack before, the changes in their body might feel like a panic attack and, as a result, they may then cause a panic attack.

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Panic Disorder

There is no evidence that substance use can directly cause a panic disorder to develop. However, substance use may reduce a person’s ability to cope with feelings of anxiety, which eventually can cause a panic attack. Following an initial panic attack, some people will go on to develop a panic disorder while other people will not. At this point, it is likely a combination of genetic predisposition and individual thought processes that determine whether a panic disorder will develop.

Substance use disorders can develop when someone tries to treat a panic disorder with drugs or alcohol. The Recovery Village has treatment facilities across the country that can treat patients specific addictions and address any co-occurring disorders. Call The Recovery Village to start the recovery process today.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.