Treatment for Panic Disorder

Untreated panic disorders can dramatically impair your quality of life, triggering difficulties at home, work, or school. 

Fortunately, panic disorder is a treatable condition. This guide outlines the most effective science-based interventions to help alleviate the frequency and intensity of panic attacks, improving overall functioning – psychotherapy and/or medications. 

How is Panic Disorder Treated?

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by panic attacks. Attacks occur frequently and unexpectedly, bringing on a wave of discomfort and fear. Panic attacks also tend to induce a loss of control, even in the absence of obvious triggers. 

While panic attacks are central to panic disorder, not everyone who experiences panic attacks develops a panic disorder. 

The main treatment options for panic attacks and panic disorder are psychotherapy and medications. Your treatment provider may recommend one or both of these approaches to treatment depending on factors that include: 

  • Severity of your panic disorder
  • Co-occurring substance use disorders
  • Availability of therapists with specialist training
  • Your personal preference 

Medications that may be effective for treating panic disorders include antidepressants and benzodiazepines. Behavioral interventions like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) help to address negative and destructive thought patterns that may contribute to panic attacks, enabling you to reevaluate those thoughts. 

Treatment for panic disorder may also include exposure to mindfulness practices and breathing techniques. 

Before we highlight the effectiveness of pharmacological and behavioral interventions for panic disorder, what are the symptoms of panic attacks? 

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

Panic disorder typically presents in the teens or in early adulthood. ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America) reports that panic disorder impacts 6 million U.S. adults in any year. Women are more likely than men to develop panic disorders. 

People diagnosed with panic disorder may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Frequent and sudden panic attacks involving overwhelming fear and anxiety
  • Feeling of loss of control
  • Fear of impending doom
  • Intense worry about subsequent panic attacks
  • Avoidance of places where previous panic attacks have occurred 

Panic attacks are also characterized by physical symptoms that may include: 

  • Nausea
  • Racing heart
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Tingly hands
  • Numb hands
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach pain 

For a diagnosis of panic disorder according to DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the following conditions must be satisfied: 

  • You have recurrent and unexpected panic attacks.
  • At least one panic attack was followed ongoing worry about another attack attack lasting for at least one month, or behavioral changes such as avoiding situations that you feel might trigger a panic attack.
  • Your panic attacks are not better explained by drug or alcohol use or by another mental health condition like social phobia or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). 

If you experience panic attacks but you do not have a diagnosable panic disorder, you may still benefit from treatment. Untreated, the symptoms of panic attacks may develop into phobias or panic disorder. 

How Effective are Treatments for Panic Disorder?

These are the most common treatments for panic attacks and panic disorder: 

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Self-directed CBT
  • Antidepressants in combination with CBT 


Studies show that antidepressants may help those with panic disorders in the following ways:

 Reduce the severity of panic attacks

  • Eliminate panic attacks
  • Improve quality of life 

A meta-analysis of studies indicates that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) are equally effective for reducing the frequency and severity of panic attacks. 

MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) may also be effective, but this older type of antidepressant is associated with more adverse side effects and safety concerns. 


Benzodiazepines like Xanax can be highly effective for relieving the short-term symptoms of panic attacks. Tolerance to benzos forms rapidly, and this class of medication also has a high potential for abuse and addiction. 

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) 

CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) is a form of psychotherapy or talk therapy that is proven effective for treating mental health conditions and addictions. 

During CBT sessions, cognitive therapy focuses on identifying flawed thoughts and misinterpreted feelings, while behavior therapy includes relaxation, breathing exercises, and exposure). 

Self-directed CBT

Some research supports the effectiveness of self-directed CBT via books and videos for the treatment of panic attacks.

Antidepressants in combination with CBT

Research suggests that CBT in combination with antidepressants is more effective during therapy. After the discontinuation of therapy, individuals who used CBT alone often enjoy superior outcomes to patients who used CBT in combination with antidepressants.

Treatment for Panic Disorder and Drug Addiction at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California

At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, we specialize in the treatment of:

  • Anxiety disorders and panic disorders
  • Drug addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Dual diagnosis (co-occurring addiction and mental health condition) 

Head to one of our pet-friendly rehabs in Long Beach, Newport Beach, or San Diego and access evidence-based treatments and medications to help improve your mental health and overall functioning. 

If you have a panic disorder co-occurring with alcoholism or drug addiction, initiate a sustained recovery by engaging with our dual diagnosis treatment program. Unpack panic disorder and addiction with simultaneous therapy addressing both conditions. 

When you are ready to fight back against mental health issues and substance abuse, begin your recovery with a supervised medical detox at Gratitude Lodge before transitioning into inpatient or outpatient treatment.