Alcohol and anxiety: can booze trigger panic attacks?

At least one of these panic attacks must be followed by a one-month period of the person experiencing intense fear and avoidance behaviors around subsequent panic attacks. Many people use the terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” interchangeably. However, only a panic attack is defined in the DSM-5 TR and has a list of identifiable symptoms. An anxiety attack can refer to a less intense episode of acute anxiety than a panic attack. In some cases, this could be secondary to taking short, shallow breaths (which affect your blood chemistry).

panic attacks and alcohol

But if drinking never ends, and the alcohol use becomes chronic, you might begin to see how anxiety and alcohol misuse can feed into each other. The withdrawal period normally peaks 72 hours after the blood alcohol level drops. Additionally, panic attacks can be triggered because of the effect alcohol has on GABA, another brain chemical that normally has a relaxing effect. One of the worst things about panic attacks is the intense fear that you’ll have another one.

Causes of Panic Attacks From Alcohol

The more you drink the greater your tolerance for alcohol – meaning you need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. If you rely on alcohol to mask anxiety, you may find you become reliant on it to relax – putting you at risk of alcohol dependence. If you are experiencing regular panic attacks, you need to ask for support. Speaking with friends and family can help them prepare to support you when a panic attack strikes.

  • It is true that alcohol can help with anxiety, at least temporarily, but it can also make it worse in the long run and cause serious panic attacks.
  • The fact that all these physiological changes can cause symptoms so similar to those of a panic attack can trick your brain into having a real one.
  • Over time, consuming too much alcohol can lead to blackouts, loss of memory, and even brain damage (especially if it causes other health problems, such as liver damage).
  • “The difference is, panic attacks come on suddenly while anxiety can be a constant worry.”

In other words, alcohol is not all bad – but it does have the potential to damage your psychological and/or physical health. If you find it difficult to reduce or completely stop your alcohol consumption even after experiencing alcohol-induced panic attacks, you may be dealing with does alcohol cause panic attacks physical or psychological addiction and should consider seeking treatment. While each panic attack can vary by person or circumstance, generally, someone experiencing an episode will have a pounding or rapid heartbeat, chest pain and feel some sort of shakiness or trembling.

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While it might be tempting to turn to alcohol to manage feelings of anxiety, it can be a slippery slope that worsens anxiety problems and increases your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Instead of alcohol, consider talking to a mental health professional about effective anxiety management options, which may include psychotherapy and medication. However, the long-term effects of alcohol can cause anxiety or make the symptoms of an anxiety disorder worse.

It’s important to seek medical treatment, like medication and psychotherapy, if you’re having frequent panic attacks. In addition, the attacks can’t be due to the direct effects of a substance or general medical condition. And they can’t be better accounted for by another mental health condition, like a phobia or PTSD. It’s important to note that one of the criteria for panic disorder is that the panic attacks don’t have a known trigger.

When to see a doctor

“Symptoms typically peak within 10 minutes and dissipate soon after,” she says. By Sarah Bence, OTR/L

Sarah Bence, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and freelance writer. She specializes in a variety of health topics including mental health, dementia, celiac disease, and endometriosis. In the moment, a panic attack can be so terrifying and all-consuming that you may experience fear of dying. If you start to experience sudden, intense dizziness, it’s important to find a safe place to sit down.

panic attacks and alcohol

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