Hundreds of thousands of American men struggle with both substance abuse issues and panic disorder. These two mental health disorders reinforce one another, making it nearly impossible to achieve recovery on one’s own. However, by attacking both problems at once through dual diagnosis rehabilitation, men can take back control of their lives and achieve lifelong holistic health.
What Is Panic Disorder?
Panic disorder is a psychological condition characterized by sudden and unexpected panic attacks. According to the DSM-5, panic attacks are defined as an abrupt onset of overwhelming feelings of fear or discomfort that can reach peak intensity within a matter of minutes. Individuals suffering from panic disorder live in constant fear of experiencing a panic attack, which often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Episodes of a panic attack in men reportedly occur at least once or twice in a lifetime during periods of intense stress. However, a full-fledged panic disorder is characterized by experiencing at least one month of constant fear or worry about suffering from a subsequent episode of extreme panic.
It is important for men to realize that even though panic disorder is an extremely upsetting condition to live with, proper treatment and therapy can greatly reduce negative symptoms and improve one’s overall quality of life.
How Panic Disorder Relates to Anxiety Disorder
While panic attacks are a common feature of all anxiety disorders in men, panic disorder is different in that the sufferer’s panic attacks will occur without warning or predictable triggers. It is important to remember that although panic disorders in men and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) share a number of common symptoms – including excessive fear or worry – they are in fact two separate and distinct conditions.
It is, however, possible to suffer from both GAD and panic disorder concurrently. Many men with panic disorder also suffer from other co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression, social phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Signs and Symptoms of Panic Disorder
As previously mentioned, panic attacks usually seem to occur “out of the blue” to a panic disorder sufferer and can arise at any time, even in the middle of the night while sound asleep. And while panic attacks only rarely last for more than 30 to 60 minutes, an episode can leave men feeling worn out and fatigued for many hours after the symptoms subside.
Although panic attacks manifest themselves differently from man to man, there are a number of common signs and symptoms, which include:
- Shaking or trembling
- Racing heart, palpitations and high blood pressure
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or fainting
- Feelings of detachment or unreality
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Shortness of breath
- An impending sense of doom
- Abdominal cramping
Perhaps the worst side effect of panic disorder is the intense fear that another panic attack could strike at any time. This concern often leads men to avoid going out in public and, in serious cases, can even lead to the development of agoraphobia.
Panic Disorder FAQs
How common is panic disorder?
A study published in The Lancet medical journal found that approximately 2.5 percent of people will develop a panic disorder at some point in their lifetime.
Can I die from a panic attack?
Although the symptoms of panic attack vs. heart attack in men share a number of frightening similarities – such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, vertigo and numbness of the extremities – panic attacks are not deadly.
How long do panic attacks last?
While the distressing symptoms of a panic attack typically reach peak intensity within 5 to 10 minutes, they generally subside within half an hour. It is extremely rare for a panic attack to last more than an hour.
The Relationship Between Panic Disorders and Substance Abuse
There is a robust body of evidence that suggests men who suffer from an anxiety disorder, including panic disorder, are at an elevated risk for developing other mental health disorders. One of the most common of these co-occurring disorders is issues with drug or alcohol abuse.
In fact, data from The National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions shows that it is more common for men diagnosed with an anxiety disorder to suffer from a co-occurring substance use disorder than to not.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has reported similar findings when looking at panic disorder in particular. The NIAAA’s research shows that, at a minimum, 20 percent of individuals diagnosed with panic disorder have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
Such data should come as no surprise given the fact it is incredibly common for men to turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt at self-medicating the symptoms of a wide range of mental health disorders. It does not take long for men abusing substances for self-medication purposes to develop both a psychological and physical addiction.
When a man suffers from both mental illness and substance use disorder, the two quickly begin reinforcing each other, creating a powerful feedback loop that can be nearly impossible to escape on one’s own.
Which Manifests First?
Despite the findings above, it would be overly simplistic to conclude that the self-medication hypothesis explains every case of co-occurring panic attacks and substance abuse. Other studies have indicated that many cases of substance abuse arise prior to the development of panic disorder.
Regardless of the question of which disorder causes the other, there’s no mistaking that the combination of substance abuse and panic disorder creates serious problems in a man’s life.
Panic Disorder and Depressant Drugs
Psychoactive depressant drugs, especially when abused, wreak havoc on the delicate structures of the brain. Many men suffering from an anxiety disorder experience panic attacks after drinking, which is likely the result of alcohol’s negative impact on the brain’s neurotransmitter symptoms.
Abruptly ending the consumption of depressant drugs can also exacerbate the symptoms of an individual’s panic disorder. For instance, the intense hangover and withdrawal symptoms associated with depressant substances like alcohol, benzos, and opiates can cause terrible stress in the user. Such high levels of stress are known to trigger the onset of panic attacks, especially among men already dealing with an underlying anxiety or panic disorder.
Panic Disorder and Stimulant Drug Use
There is currently a debate within the addiction treatment community as to whether stimulant drugs in and of themselves cause panic attacks, or if they simply worsen the symptoms of an individual’s underlying anxiety disorder. Either way, it’s no secret in the medical community that such drugs trigger feelings of panic and anxiety due to their ability to rapidly increase the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
Stimulant drugs commonly associated with increased levels of anxiety include:
- MDMA (ecstasy)
- Amphetamines (Adderall, Ritalin, etc.)
Get the Help You Need with Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Chemical addiction and panic disorder feed off one another, making it nearly impossible to effectively address one without simultaneously addressing the other. If you struggle with both of these types of mental health disorders, your best chance of successful recovery is to undergo dual diagnosis treatment.
At Reflections Recovery Center, we offer dual diagnosis treatment for men that is widely regarded as among the most effective program of its kind in the state of Arizona. We accept patients from across the country who are looking to take back control of their lives. So don’t wait! Reach out today and discover how our holistic approach to recovery can help you live a life free from addiction and panic disorder.