The goal of panic disorder treatment is to increase a person’s understanding of their panic attacks, change their minds about the attacks and reduce the frequency and intensity of the attacks. While immediate elimination of symptoms is unlikely, proper treatment can reduce the intensity of panic attacks.
Therapy Options for Panic Disorder
In the early stages of developing a panic disorder, talk therapies are thought to be the best treatment option. Therapy can be used to reduce the anxieties that ultimately lead to panic attacks. Intervening before there is an excess of locations and other stimuli associated with panic attacks may also prevent reactionary panic attacks.
For people with a mild panic disorder, the best panic disorder therapy may be psychoeducation paired with processing the panic attacks. Understanding how and why panic attacks occur and that panic attacks do not indicate a health problem can reduce the intensity of future panic attacks and anticipatory anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Theory
The cognitive behavioral approach works to increase the patient’s understanding of how their thoughts, feelings and actions intertwine. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often includes challenging negative or faulty thinking patterns. The goal of CBT in treating panic disorder is to change catastrophic beliefs about panic attacks. Using CBT for panic disorder can help a person feel safe when they experience a panic attack. This approach is also particularly useful in treating the anticipatory anxiety.
Medications Used for Treating Panic Disorder
Medication may be prescribed for panic disorder to lower an individual’s overall level of anxiety or to relieve acute anxiety occurring during a panic attack. In some cases, multiple medications may be prescribed to treat both acute and chronic anxiety. There are two main categories for medications used to treat panic disorders: anti-depressants and anti-anxieties.
Before selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the best medication for panic disorder was Tofranil, a tricyclic antidepressant. However, as pharmaceutical companies developed new medications, SSRIs became the choice treatment. SSRIs work by increasing the level of serotonin, the chemical that manages happiness, in the brain. A person’s physical makeup may affect how each person tolerates the medication, so it may take several trials before finding which of the panic disorder drugs works best for someone. Lexapro is effective for most people, while others have more success with Celexa, Prozac or Zoloft.
Utilizing anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, is less common due to the risk of creating physical dependence. The best use of these medications is in the first several weeks of using anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety medications often provide results within a few hours while antidepressants may take weeks to be fully effective.
Treating Panic Disorder and Co-Occurring Conditions
In many cases, there may be a few symptoms that differentiate panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Differentiating panic disorder vs. generalized anxiety disorder ultimately comes down to a history of panic attacks. The anticipatory anxiety of panic disorder presents the same as generalized anxiety. Anxiety and panic disorder go together, and clinicians should treat them in the same way.
Substance use disorders and panic disorders commonly occur. People who experience panic attacks can find that certain drugs calm their anxiety. So, they abuse the drug for its calming effects, leading to compulsive use and then addiction. It is important to provide treatment for the substance use disorder along with treatment for panic disorder. The Recovery Village offers treatment to patients who are living with a substance use disorder and are experiencing a panic disorder as a co-occurring disorder. Call The Recovery Village today to learn about how treatment can improve your life.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.