Imagine your hands are sweaty and your heart is racing. You feel lightheaded, as if you’re going to pass out at any moment. There’s pain in your chest and it’s difficult to breathe, and all of this is happening while you’re sitting at your desk at work, on a normal day with no explainable reason for these symptoms. This is a Panic Attack.
Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Some 40 million adults over the age of 18 are suffering from anxiety, and statistics show that only about one-third of them receive any treatment for their disorders.
Panic attacks generally peak within 10 minutes, but many patients report that the feelings of anxiety can last for hours afterwards. These attacks often include chest pain, a shaking or trembling in the extremities, an accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
While they are rarely fatal, anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack knows just how terrifying they can be.
It’s not uncommon for those living with untreated panic disorder to turn to drugs and alcohol to medicate their symptoms. Over time, this tendency can unknowingly turn into alcoholism or drug addiction. The presence of addiction and a mental illness is referred to as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder.
The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM-5), which is used by healthcare professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, and even the United States judicial system. The most recent edition, published in May 2013, categorizes Panic Disorder as an Anxiety Disorder.
What are the DSM-5 Symptoms of Panic Disorder?
While panic or anxiety disorders may present with a variety of symptoms, the following are used as criteria for a diagnosis according to DSM-5:
- Persistent and unanticipated panic attacks
- A looming dread or fear of future panic attacks
- Feelings of guilt and shame in regard to these attacks
- Feelings of flight-or-fight in response to stress
- Persistent feelings of anxiety
A study conducted by the National Institute of Health reported that 10 to 20 percent of patients with panic disorder abuse alcohol or other drugs. Data from this study also showed that as many as 40 percent of alcoholics have a panic-related disorder. These numbers are staggering when you consider that an estimated 17 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.
While people with panic disorder might turn to drugs and alcohol to ease their symptoms, the attempt to self-medicate can backfire because these substances can often trigger panic attacks. They then find themselves in a painful cycle of substance abuse and panic attacks.
There are effective treatment options for the dual diagnosis of panic disorder and substance abuse disorder. However, patients should seek care at a facility that is able to not only diagnose both problems, but also properly treat them.
Anxiety medication is useful in curbing panic attacks, and allows physicians and patients to then look at issues of addiction in a clearer light.
By removing drugs and alcohol from the equation, the brain’s chemistry can begin to come into balance, and many people have found that they experience fewer and fewer panic attacks.
There are also cognitive techniques that patients can learn to stave off attacks, or limit their duration.
Panic Disorder combined with substance abuse disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. These are treatable disorders that a vast amount of the population experiences. The most important thing is for people to seek qualified and expert medical care.