Anxiety and Panic Attacks During Drug and Alcohol Detox

Anxiety and Panic Attacks During Drug and Alcohol Detox summit 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.

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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