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Does Alcohol Affect Panic Disorder?

People who are dealing with stress may be tempted to throw back a beer or glass of wine to tame your nerves. However, over time, the consumption of alcohol may actually increase panic disorder symptoms like anxiety. Drinking alcohol could have severe consequences if you’re being treated for panic disorder. A drink may sound like a good way to ease your stress, but it may be doing more harm than good.

Using Alcohol to Unwind

In the beginning, drinking alcohol may help drinkers take their minds off their troubles. Some may use alcoholic beverages to “loosen up” and feel less shy, boost their mood, and make them relax. Alcohol shares similar effects to those of antianxiety medications because it is a central nervous system depressant and sedative.

The occasional drink to ease tension is not dangerous if your doctor approves. You must keep in mind, however, that drinking alcohol regularly means you will build up a tolerance for its effects. Over time, it will make stress and anxiety more challenging to cope with. 

Individuals who drink excessive amounts of alcohol will also notice mental and physical consequences. Consuming too much alcohol over time will lead to a loss of memory, the potential for brain damage, liver damage, and blackouts. These issues will worsen your panic disorder and create more anxiety as you cope with the symptoms. 

How Alcohol Worsens Anxiety and Panic Disorder

Alcohol alters levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, and these will worsen anxiety and other symptoms of your panic disorder. It may cause you to feel more anxious once the alcohol wears off. Using alcohol to cope with panic disorder is dangerous. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that nearly 7 percent of Americans struggle with social anxiety disorder.

Other signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • Drinking heavily four days a week or more
  • Needing a drink in the morning to feel normal
  • Feeling unable to stop drinking
  • Drinking five or more alcoholic drinks per day
  • Needing to drink at every get-together

Overconsuming alcohol may also lead to a hangover, which is a set of symptoms that can make panic disorder worse. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Low blood glucose (sugar)

Does Alcohol Affect Panic Disorder?

In short, yes, alcohol does adversely affect panic disorder. The main component is the increase in anxiety, which can lead a person with panic disorder to believe their irrational thoughts. Long-term heavy drinkers also predispose themselves to develop anxiety disorders. Other research has found that individuals with alcoholism find it challenging to overcome traumatic events. It’s likely due to the effects of alcohol abuse and how they change brain activity.

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Increased anxiety is also linked to alcohol withdrawal, which can be deadly. Those who consume large amounts of alcohol for an extended period run the risk of aggravating their panic disorder and anxiety by the side effects of alcohol withdrawal. Other alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Trembling hands
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart rate above 100 beats per minute
  • Sweating
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Sources

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms/index.shtml

Rahman, A. (2019, December 16). Delirium Tremens (DT). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482134/

(UK), N. C. G. C. (1970, January 1). Acute Alcohol Withdrawal. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65581/

Heavy drinking rewires brain, increasing anxiety problem. (2012, September 4). Retrieved from https://healthtalk.unchealthcare.org/heavy-drinking-rewires-brain-increasing-susceptibility-to-anxiety-problems/

Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/social-anxiety-and-alcohol-abuse

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