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Whats the Connection Between Panic Disorder and Addiction

The Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA) publishes that anxiety and mood disorders co-occur with addiction about 20 percent of the time. This means that 20 percent of individuals with an anxiety or mood disorder also have an addiction, and the reverse is also true.


Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder involving intense fear and panic attacks when there is no real threat present.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) reports that symptoms of a panic disorder typically begin in early adulthood. Women usually struggle with panic disorder more often than men.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains that panic disorder may be caused by a variety of influences, including a possible genetic link, biological aspects, and environmental factors.

Addiction can have overlapping risk factors, and individuals who have panic disorder are more likely to also struggle with drug abuse and addiction. Many drugs of abuse, including hallucinogens, dissociative drugs, MDMA (ecstasy), methamphetamine, and synthetic cathinones and cannabinoids, may also induce panic and anxiety.

Addiction and panic disorder are closely intertwined. Each condition can exacerbate and complicate the other.


Both addiction and panic disorder may be heritable and have a possible genetic link, meaning that if a family member struggles with one or the other, you have a higher risk to also deal with the disorder.

Biology can play a role in the onset of both an addiction and an anxiety disorder like panic disorder. When you feel intense fear, your body often goes into the fight-or-flight mode, which floods the brain with stimulating and excitatory neurotransmitters.

In the absence of an dangerous situation, someone with a panic disorder may struggle with an imbalance of brain chemistry. Chemical imbalance and brain dysfunction can also be risk factors for drug use and addiction.

Alcohol, benzodiazepines, marijuana, and opioid drugs are all depressant substances that suppress the central nervous system. They often release inhibitory neurotransmitters to do so.

This can make these drugs appealing as a form of self-medication for panic and anxiety, as they may seem to manage the symptoms temporarily. Repeated drug use can make anxiety worse, however. The crash is often amplified after the drugs wear off, and anxiety and panic disorder symptoms can be heightened.

The risk for addiction goes up when someone with panic disorder also abuses drugs. According to the Mayo Clinic, substance abuse is a potential complication of panic disorder.

Three-quarters of those who have co-occurring anxiety disorder and addiction struggled with anxiety symptoms before initiating drug or alcohol use, Psychiatric Times publishes. In this way, panic disorder can be a risk factor for drug misuse and addiction.


Stress is a causal factor in the onset of both panic disorders and drug abuse. High levels of stress can increase panic attacks and also the desire to use drugs and/or alcohol as a method of self-medication to cope with difficult symptoms.

Heightened and prolonged stress can increase the odds that a person will use drugs and also struggle with addiction as a result. The onset of panic disorder and addiction can be both related to environmental factors as well as biological and genetic ones.

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that drug and alcohol abuse can make changes to the brain that make a person more at risk for also struggling with a mental illness. Drug abuse can increase the side effects and symptoms of mental illness, and they may also be involved in its onset.

There are several drugs that can cause panic attacks when abused.

A bad trip can cause paranoia and panic attacks.

These drugs cause a person to feel out of control, which can also lead to a panic attack.

High amounts and an overdose of MDMA can cause panic attacks.

These drugs are man-made and unpredictable. They can often cause anxiety and may induce panic attacks.

When used in high amounts over an extended amount of time, panic attacks may be a side effect of this stimulant drug.

Drugs can make changes to brain chemistry and function, which can worsen anxiety, lead to relapse in someone already battling mental illness, and potentially trigger the onset of a mood or anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder.


Anxiety is one of the major and common side effects of drug withdrawal after drug dependence is established through regular and repeated use.

For someone who has an anxiety disorder like panic disorder, this can be significantly amplified, and panic attacks can be severe.

Drug dependence and withdrawal are regular side effects of addiction. As a result, addiction can complicate and exacerbate panic disorder.

When these two disorders occur in the same person at the same time, medical detox is often the first part of a comprehensive and specialized treatment program.

Individuals will need to be closely monitored and supported while drugs pass out of the system to ensure safety and security.

Trained mental health, substance abuse, and medical professionals can manage the side effects of drug withdrawal and the symptoms of a panic disorder during medical detox.

Man looking at the ground, surrounded by shadowy figures


A team of experienced professionals, working in tandem, can develop a treatment plan that will be optimally suited to the person.

A specialized program that can manage both disorders in an integrated fashion at the same time is preferred over a general rehab program.

This is due to the fact that a person with panic disorder will often struggle with more intense symptoms and side effects than the general population, and a high level of support and understanding is paramount.

Medications, behavioral therapies, counseling, education and training, and supportive care are all included in a complete treatment program for co-occurring disorders.

Through specialized group and individual therapies, clients can learn how to improve their overall quality of life.


Substance Use Disorders. ADAA. Retrieved March 2019 from

(February 2019). Panic Disorder. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved March 2019 from

(2016). When Fear Overwhelms. National Institute of Mental Illness. Retrieved March 2019 from

(May 2018). Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 2019 from

(October 2008). Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders: A Review. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved March 2019 from

(August 2018). Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved March 2019 from




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