Panic Disorder & Drinking Problems

Somebody looking dazed and confused, depicting the correlation between a panic disorder & drinking problemsPanic disorder and drinking problems are common conditions that can trigger problems in many areas of life.

If panic disorder and alcoholism co-occur, though, the conditions can feed into each other.

This guide explores panic disorders and alcoholism, and also outlines how you can engage with the most effective dual-diagnosis treatment at a treatment facility like Gratitude Lodge.



Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by disturbing panic attacks.

There are five major types of anxiety disorder:

  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Panic disorders can disrupt daily functioning unless treated. Fortunately, evidence-based treatment can allow you to live without the continual fear of a panic attack manifesting.

According to data from ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), 6 million adults in the United States are affected by panic disorder in any given year. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with a panic disorder.

The presentation of unexpected and frequent panic attacks is central to panic disorder. A panic attack involves sudden feelings of discomfort and fear, as well as these physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tingling sensation
  • Trembling

Beyond this, panic attacks can induce a sense of losing control, even when there is no apparent danger.

When panic disorder develops, it typically occurs in the teenage or early adult years.

Like all mental health conditions, panic disorder is diagnosed based on the criteria set out in DSM-5-TR. This is the most recent edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The DSM criteria for panic disorder are as follows:

  • You experience regular, recurrent panic attacks.
  • Following a panic attack, you either alter your behavior in an attempt to avoid triggering another panic attack or worry excessively about another panic attack presenting.
  • The panic attacks are not better explained by a medical condition, mental health condition, or substance use disorder.



Panic disorders are categorized as follows:

  • Type I: Absence of symptoms except for an isolated panic attack.
  • Type II: Frequent presentation of panic attacks with no depressive or neurotic or depressive symptoms.
  • Type III: Recurrent panic attacks. Neurotic symptoms may present over time, such as generalized anxiety, anticipatory anxiety, or agoraphobia.
  • Type IV: Recurrent panic attacks in addition to depressive symptoms.

Type IV panic disorders can be sub-categorized as follows:

  • Type IV-1: Depressive symptoms are secondary to panic attacks.
  • Type IV-2: Panic disorder that develops into major depressive disorder.
  • Type IV-3: Independent presentation of panic attacks and symptoms of depression.



Panic attacks typically present without warning, with the frequency varying from person to person.

Most of the symptoms associated with a panic attack will peak within a few minutes, leaving you feeling drained and disoriented. The most common symptoms include:

  • Sense of imminent danger
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Constricted throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Chill
  • Hot flashes
  • Sweating
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Chest pains
  • Fear of death

While panic attacks can be extremely distressing, almost all panic disorders respond positively to personalized and evidence-based treatment.



For a panic disorder to be treated effectively, an accurate diagnosis is essential.

You should first consult your physician and voice your concerns about panic disorder. They may provide a referral to a mental health professional, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist.

The following medications are commonly prescribed to treat panic disorders:

  • Benzodiazepines: Benzos can be effective for addressing the symptoms of many anxiety disorders. This class of medication is only advisable for short-term use due to the rate at which tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction develop.
  • Antidepressants: SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants are most commonly prescribed to treat depression, but these medications may also be effective for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Beta-blockers: Less frequently, beta blockers are prescribed to address the physical symptoms of panic disorders.

Medications may be beneficial in isolation or delivered in combination with psychotherapy (talk therapy).

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the most common type of psychotherapy used for the treatment of panic disorders. During sessions of CBT, you will work closely with a therapist to explore the closely interrelated nature of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior, both during and after the manifestation of a panic attack.

If you have been avoiding potentially triggering situations in an attempt to prevent panic attacks from occurring, you may benefit from engaging with a course of exposure therapy.


Alcoholism Facts

Alcoholism is a non-clinical term for AUD (alcohol use disorder).

A chronic and relapsing brain condition, alcohol use disorder is characterized by compulsive alcohol consumption in spite of adverse outcomes.

The most recent data from SAMHSA indicates that over 28 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder in 2020. Among those, less than one in ten engaged with any form of alcohol addiction treatment.

According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), any form of alcohol consumption that impacts health, interpersonal relationships, and professional performance is classified as alcohol abuse.

Binge drinking and heavy drinking are classified as alcohol abuse. The same applies to underaged drinking and alcohol consumption by pregnant women.

NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) reports that 25% of U.S. over-18s engaged in an episode of binge during any given month. 6% of adults in the United States also exceed the guidelines for moderate drinking.

Alcohol abuse can be remarkably destructive whatever form it takes, frequently leading to the following complications:

  • Financial problems
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Isolation
  • Absence from work or school
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Uncontrollable anger
  • Legal ramifications



Alcoholism is diagnosed according to the diagnostic criteria in DSM-5-TR, the fifth edition of APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

You will be asked the following eleven questions relating to your alcohol consumption the previous year:

  • Have you made more than one failed attempt to moderate your alcohol consumption or to stop drinking?
  • Do you frequently drink more than planned or for longer than intended?
  • Have you experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you require more alcohol to achieve the same effects due to tolerance?
  • Are you spending the majority of your time drinking and recovering from the effects?
  • Do you get cravings for alcohol?
  • Is the amount of alcohol you consume causing you to neglect personal or professional commitments?
  • Do you drink alcohol in dangerous situations?
  • Is your alcohol consumption triggering problems in your closest relationships?
  • Do you spend more time drinking and less time doing things you previously enjoyed?
  • Do you still consume alcohol even though it is causing or inflaming a physical or psychological issue?

Alcohol use disorder is classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of criteria that present:

  • Mild: 2 or 3 criteria
  • Moderate: 4 or 5 criteria
  • Severe: 6 or more criteria


Alcoholism Treatment

The ideal pathway to recovery from alcohol use disorder typically involves a supervised medical detox followed by ongoing treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

A supervised medical detox allows you to withdraw from alcohol with the benefit of FDA-approved medications and continuous clinical care to streamline the process. After a week or so, you will be ready to engage with a personalized treatment program that may include:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy

Choosing to engage with a treatment plan suitable for the severity of your alcohol use disorder and your personal circumstances can strengthen your chances of initiating a sustained recovery without relapsing.



Alcoholism frequently co-occurs with panic disorders and other mental health disorders. Research shows that a coordinated and integrated approach to treatment delivers the most positive outcomes.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) data for 2020 indicate that 17 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with co-occurring disorders associated with AMI (any mental illness). 5.7 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with a dual diagnosis of addiction and an SMI (serious mental illness).

If panic disorder and alcohol use disorder co-occur, either condition may present first.

Every case of dual diagnosis is unique. Treatment should be personalized accordingly.

In most cases of co-occurring disorder, residential treatment provides the most secure and structured environment for recovery.


Treatment for panic disorders co-occurring with alcoholism may include:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • CBT or DBT
  • Exposure therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy

We can help you tackle dual diagnosis at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California.



At Gratitude Lodge, we offer luxury impatient rehab at three Southern Californian locations.

If you are diagnosed with co-occurring panic disorder and alcohol use disorder, take advantage of our licensed medical detox center to withdraw from alcohol as comfortably as possible. Around-the-clock clinical care will minimize the likelihood of complications during your detox. You can also access emotional care and counseling to help you tackle cravings for alcohol.

After a week or so, you can transition directly into one of our dual diagnosis treatment programs, enabling you to unpack both aggravating conditions at the same during an intensive 30-day inpatient program.

For those who require a more flexible pathway to recovery, we also provide intensive outpatient treatment programs.

Regardless of the level of treatment intensity that is most appropriate for your needs, the treatment team will personalize your treatment plan drawing from the evidence-based interventions described above.

All Gratitude Lodge rehabs are pet-friendly environments free of triggers and distractions. To initiate your recovery from panic disorder and alcoholism, call 800-994-2184 today.