Understanding the Relationship Between Drug Use and Panic Attacks

A full-blown panic attack is a symptom of panic disorder, affecting around 2.7% of U.S. adults yearly, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In addition, up to 5% of American adults will suffer from panic attacks at some point in their life. Meanwhile, according to the National Council on Mental Health, around 8% of people struggle with drug use disorder. It is not uncommon for anxiety illnesses such as panic disorder and drug addiction disorder to occur together. When two diseases or disorders affect the same patient simultaneously, we call that comorbidity. Read on to learn about the signs and symptoms of this comorbidity and where to get assistance if you or a loved one is experiencing this. As well as a better understanding of the relationship between drug use and panic attacks.

Recognizing the symptoms of panic disorder

Panic attacks are a defining feature of the anxiety disorder subgroup known as panic disorder. Those experiencing panic attacks often have the terrifying thought that they are imminently dying or that something dreadful is about to occur. Shortness of breath and dizziness are common symptoms, as are those shared with other types of anxiety disorders.

A girl having a panic attack
Panic disorder is not something that should be overlooked or mocked.

These signs and symptoms might appear in response to stress in your environment, or they can occur spontaneously. It is possible to have a single panic attack or many episodes if there is significant stress. Fear of having another panic attack is a common trigger for those with panic disorder.

Substances that could trigger panic attacks

Everyone reacts differently to drug abuse. Even if two people misuse the same drug, they may have quite different experiences while high or afterward. This explains why a broad variety of chemicals may cause both addiction and anxiety issues.

However, the risk of experiencing a panic attack after consuming a certain chemical varies. Anxiety symptoms occur during, just after, or during detoxing from drug use, therefore the condition is also called substance-induced anxiety disorder. If you are unsure whether or not you or your loved one may suffer from a substance-induced anxiety disorder, make sure to talk to a professional. Coming to conclusions on your own too early will only worsen the situation. Talking to professionals at Pennsylvania dual-diagnosis treatment centers is the best course of action.


There is a strong correlation between alcoholism and panic disorder. Alcohol has dual effects. It is both a depressive and a stimulant. When someone who is already battling panic attacks decides to turn to drinking as a means of self-medication, their condition will worsen. Up to 16% of the population may suffer from both alcoholism and panic attacks. More and more alcohol rehab centers in Pennsylvania are opening up each year.

a man drinking at home thinking about the relationship between drug use and panic attacks
Alcohol will only cause more frequent panic attacks.

Intoxicated people may have panic attacks because they fear losing control of their minds and bodies. Moreover, when individuals try to quit drinking, anxiety and panic attacks are common withdrawal symptoms. Relapse occurs in certain individuals who fear having further panic episodes associated with withdrawal and giving up too soon.

Methamphetamine and cocaine

Methamphetamine and cocaine are both classified as stimulants. Both may raise the likelihood of experiencing stimulant-induced anxiety. Regular cocaine misuse, particularly for the purpose of alleviating the symptoms of other disorders, might raise the likelihood that the user will also suffer from panic attacks. Anxiety caused by stimulants may also occur in those taking prescribed stimulants, such as those used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If you or someone you love are a long-term cocaine addict, it is high time to consider long-term drug rehab Pennsylvania. There’s a lot at stake. Not only your well-being but the well-being of your loved ones as well.


Despite widespread misperception, chronic marijuana usage has been linked to psychological complications including anxiety and panic attacks. Lifetime marijuana usage has been linked to an elevated risk for panic disorder symptoms. However, this does not apply to everyone who uses the drug.


Opioids are another medication that has been linked to the development of substance-induced anxiety disorder. They are widely prescribed for pain treatment and other medical purposes, but they are also widely accessible in the illegal drug market. During opiate withdrawal and detox, panic attacks are common. Up to 38% of persons who have trouble with opioid addiction may also suffer from a panic attack, according to recent studies.  Luckily, many Pennsylvania opioid treatment programs can help.

pills and money on a table
Avoid relying on opioids as a coping mechanism.

Panic attacks have also been linked to pure stimulant drugs like MDMA (Amphetamines). These medicines increase the brain’s rate of processing information, which may lead to erratic thinking and feelings of impending doom that characterize panic episodes.

What effects does drug abuse have on panic disorder symptoms?

In an effort to cope, some people with panic disorder resort to substances like alcohol or narcotics. The situation may get much more difficult for them as a result of this. Drug use triggers panic attacks in some people and leads to substance-induced anxiety disorders in others.


Consuming alcohol is associated with the development of new anxiety symptoms, the exacerbation of current anxiety, and the initiation of panic disorder symptoms and panic attacks. Alcohol is a depressant, but it may severely impair one’s mental and physical abilities, which can be a significant cause of anxiety and lead to panic attacks. During the detox process, alcohol withdrawal may also create or exacerbate anxiety.


Those diagnosed with panic disorder may find that marijuana usage won’t help them much. In fact, it makes it all so much worse. Marijuana may cause physical symptoms that, for some, are eerily similar to those of a panic attack. This is why people who use the drug often feel anxious. In addition, anxiety is a common side effect of marijuana withdrawal, especially for those with a history of long-term dependence. Smoking pot with your friends is the worst thing you can do if you’re experiencing panic attacks. And if you have already developed an addiction, you will have to start thinking about marijuana rehab Pennsylvania soon.

a man with marijuana in his hand
Marijuana will not alleviate your pain. It can only worsen the situation.


Anxiety and panic disorder symptoms, especially when they are new or severe, are often exacerbated by the use of stimulants. Drug users reporting panic attack symptoms are more likely to have taken a stimulant owing to how these substances influence the brain. In addition, the quick shift in brain chemistry that occurs after discontinuing stimulant usage usually leads to intense anxiety.

Cognitive therapies that can better your relationship between drug abuse and panic attacks

Patients with this comorbidity may have difficulty seeking care, but if they do, medical professionals may provide a wide range of services to meet their needs. The most effective treatments take into account both drug misuse and panic disorder, addressing their respective symptoms and root causes.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often included in treatment regimens because of its efficacy in assisting patients in recognizing risky thought patterns and interrupting their destructive cycle before panic attacks and other symptoms manifest. Patients often meet with a single therapist during treatment, where they talk about their feelings and how those emotions and ideas affect their everyday lives. The patient and therapist work together to develop strategies for dealing with challenging situations, ultimately empowering the patient to make positive changes in his or her life.

a man on CBT therapy
CBT will help you understand the relationship between drug use and panic attacks and help you overcome all your struggles.

Breathing and mental exercises

Using breathing exercises as part of a plan to deal with panic episodes may help people avoid hyperventilation. Patients may try square breathing, which is taking a full breath in, holding it for four seconds, releasing it for four seconds, and waiting the same amount of time before starting another breath. Other coping strategies include having patients concentrate on positive pictures or recollections or helping them become more aware of their surroundings by describing what they can see, feel, or hear.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy, which can also be a component of CBT, is effective in treating panic disorder. The patient is put in settings that they fear in order to help them overcome their fears via exposure treatment. Patient exposure is increased progressively until they reach a level of comfort with the demanding environment. Patients who suffer from panic attacks while driving may benefit from beginning exposure treatment by just looking at and talking about photos of vehicles in the first session. Patients with a fear of vehicles may overcome their fear using exposure treatment, which gradually increases their time spent in and behind the wheel.

Those who suffer from panic attacks and can’t seem to fix their problem often turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. During cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists assist their patients in developing alternative coping strategies. They will encourage you to:

  • Be more creative and work on your mental re-frame
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Join a support group

We see the most beneficial results when a person employs a mix of mental and physical coping strategies. The professional will decide on the best treatment process, once they’ve thoroughly analyzed their patient’s habits as well as their character and their particular relationship between drug use and panic attacks. If the problem is not yet too grave or the patient is harder to persuade, they’ll probably start off with something more convenient like music therapy for substance abuse, for example. Yes, this can be very effective although it may not sound like it.

Do you have to use prescription medication?

Medication often goes hand in hand with cognitive behavioral therapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the most often treatment option for those with a history of both drug addiction and panic disorder. Although researchers have yet to determine the efficacy of SSRIs for treating substance use disorders, they are often prescribed to people with depression.

In particular, those who suffer from panic disorder and have trouble using cocaine usually get topiramate from their physicians. Patients with both alcohol dependency and panic disorder often benefit from the use of sertraline and paroxetine. Physicians administer medications to patients, monitor their responses, and either alter the dose or recommend a different drug. All depend on the adverse effects experienced by the individual. You should not under any circumstances, try to medicate yourself on your own if you know you have a problem with substance abuse or in any other scenario. It’s very easy for you to become an addict when you don’t use prescribed medication properly. In this case, you will also have to go through prescription drug addiction treatment.

Are there any alternative treatments?

Understanding the relationship between drug use and panic attacks as well as the individual circumstances is crucial for providing the right treatment. Substance addiction therapy and panic disorder treatment are often incompatible due to the overlapping symptoms and severity of these two disorders. In such situations, the patient and his or her medical and therapeutic team collaboratively develop the optimum treatment plan. Some cases can benefit from including other forms of treatment in their CBT regimen, such as group therapy. For some patients, the best chance for recovery is to spend some time away from their usual environments in a dedicated rehabilitation center where they will go through intensive inpatient rehab Pennsylvania. Usually, if your addiction is severe, this is your best chance for overcoming that addiction.

man on a therapy session
There are multiple ways for treating your condition.

Seeking assistance at a recognized rehab center Pennsylvania is an important first step toward recovery if you or a loved one battles with panic disorder and a co-occurring drug addiction problem. Regrettably, not all treatment centers provide comprehensive support. Meaning the range of therapeutic services essential for a patient to successfully overcome the symptoms of a co-occurring condition is not satisfactory. So, look into the facilities in your area carefully and choose the one with the best available range of services. Don’t ever lose hope. It is entirely possible to combat your toxic relationship with drugs. Frequent panic attacks will be a thing of the past as well. We urge you to put the relationship between drug use and panic attacks to the test with the help of licensed professionals as soon as possible.

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