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Anxiety and Panic Attacks During Drug and Alcohol Detox

Anxiety is a common withdrawal symptom in people detoxifying from alcohol or certain drugs. At its worst, this anxiety can appear in the form of a full-blown panic attack. During medically supervised detoxification, doctors and their support staff work to limit the severity of anxiety, panic attacks and other withdrawal symptoms.

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Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety[i] is a common mental and physical state. People affected by this state experience things such as:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Fear
  • Dread
  • Confused or disorganized thinking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Muscle tremors

At one time or another, many people will experience temporary bouts of anxiousness. These episodes tend to have little or no effect on the ability to lead a productive life. However, sometimes, anxiety symptoms can grow strong enough, and appear often enough, to interfere with day-to-day function. When this occurs, doctors may diagnose the presence of a mental health condition called an anxiety disorder[ii]. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes and defines several forms of this condition, including:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
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Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

A full-blown panic attack[iii] occurs when at least four symptoms of severe anxiety appear quickly, without warning and at the same time. Examples of the possible symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Heart palpitation
  • Shaking or trembling muscles
  • Light-headedness
  • A choking sensation
  • Feelings of tingling or numbness
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Loss of a sense of reality
  • Fear of impending death
  • Fear of being or going insane

These panic indicators usually reach their highest level of intensity within a few minutes, then begin to fade away. Some people experience limited-symptom panic attacks, which produce fewer than four indicators of emotional and physical distress.

For some people, a panic attack is a solitary or isolated event. However, others experience repeated bouts of unexpected, intense panic. When doctors note the occurrence of these repeated episodes, they diagnose the presence of panic disorder. In addition to experiencing the symptoms of a panic attack, people with this disorder may dread the uncertainty of not knowing when the next bout of symptoms will begin.

Stress and Anxiety While Detoxing from Alcohol

Detoxification is a challenging process for anyone seeking to recover from alcohol addiction. That’s true, in part, because anyone going through alcohol withdrawal can develop significant symptoms of anxiety[iv]. Withdrawal can also trigger a range of additional mental and physical effects, such as fluctuating moods, depression, sleeplessness, headaches, jitteriness, nausea, mental agitation and skin clamminess.

In addition, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that one out of every five people in treatment for alcohol problems[v] has some form of anxiety disorder. In fact, an abusive pattern of drinking may begin as part of an attempt to ease existing anxiety symptoms. The ADAA also reports that excessive use of alcohol can trigger panic attacks and lead to the onset of panic disorder. In turn, the presence of panic disorder makes it more likely that a person going through detox or active substance use treatment will relapse back into alcohol abuse.

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Stress and Anxiety While Detoxing from Drugs

The mental and physical stresses that appear during the course of alcohol detox are also common in people going through medication and drug detoxification. Anxiety also plays a major role here, and it appears on the list of common symptoms for several forms of medication/drug withdrawal. Just like people going through detox for alcohol-related problems, people with drug- and medication-related problems have increased odds of experiencing symptoms of medically serious anxiety. In addition, anyone who abuses street drugs or mind-altering medications has increased chances of experiencing panic attacks and qualifying for a panic disorder diagnosis. They also have greater odds of relapsing during detoxification or later in the treatment process.

Coping with Anxiety and Panic Attacks During Detox

The potential for developing anxiety and panic attacks is just one of the many reasons for going through drug and alcohol detoxification in a medically monitored setting. Doctors and other staff members in a detox facility are trained to relieve stress and anxiety, and thereby reduce the risks for bouts of panic. In some cases, medication may play a role in proper treatment[vi]. For example, people withdrawing from alcohol may benefit from the use of anxiety-relieving benzodiazepines. In contrast, people withdrawing from benzodiazepines can avoid anxiety and panic attacks by tapering their intake of these medications instead of stopping “cold turkey.”

There are also non-medication-based methods for easing stress and anxiety during substance detoxification. Examples of these methods include:

  • Improved hydration through IV fluid support
  • A switch to healthier eating habits
  • Stress management classes
  • Serenity lounges designed to reduce stress levels

The steps used to reduce anxiety during detox can also help alleviate the impact of other drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Group Therapy Helps Manage Stress and Anxiety

Successful management of stress and anxiety is also important during substance use treatment following the completion of detox. One of the most powerful tools used for this purpose is group therapy. This form of therapy provides a format for discussion of shared experiences and promotes interaction between participants.

In turn, the creation of a community-like environment can make it easier to face the challenges of establishing and maintaining sobriety. Several of the most common forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, are designed for use in group settings[vii].

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[i] Mayo Clinic: Anxiety                                                                           https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

[ii] American Psychiatric Association: What Are Anxiety Disorders? https://www.psychiatry.org/patientsfamilies/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders

[iii] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Symptoms                    https://adaa.org/understandinganxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia/symptoms#

[iv] U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Alcohol Withdrawal https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

[v] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Substance Use Disorders https://adaa.org/understandinganxiety/related-illnesses/substance-abuse

[vi] National Institute on Drug Abuse: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction – What Science Says: 8 – Medical Detoxification

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

[vii] National Institute on Drug Abuse: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment – A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)  https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/podat_1.pdf

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2018-11-20T13:25:01+00:00January 11th, 2018|

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