Panic Attacks and Alcohol

There is some recent research about panic attacks and alcohol that shows that anxiety disorders can actually complicate recovery from alcohol addiction treatment. One study (Kushner, et al, 2013) demonstrated that people with panic disorder and other anxiety disorders who had been using alcohol as a method of self-treatment had less success in recovery when they sought treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction.


This makes sense, as people with anxiety sometimes use alcohol as a way of relaxing themselves.  Sometimes a person who experiences frequent panic attacks will use alcohol as a means of trying to avoid another panic attack. 

A client of mine reported that he had been using booze daily as a way to keep himself relaxed.  He said he had never intended to have a problem with drinking, but what happened was that every time he felt a little anxious or edgy, he would take a shot of vodka.  Vodka being the drink of choice of course because he thought it could not be detected on his breath (myth!). 


The instant relief he would feel worked in making him feel a bit more comfortable, but it didn't last all that long and he found himself needing more, and more frequently.  He worried about panic attacks at work and began to go out for drinks at lunch.  It wasn't long until he was slipping a bottle of Grey Goose into his desk drawer - well hidden he thought, as it was a clear violation of policy at his workplace.


He kept on balancing this mix of avoidance of panic attacks with alcohol, until the day arrived when he was discovered.  He was enrolled in a rehabilitation program, but unfortunately after completion of the program he still found himself craving alcohol and quickly relapsed back into drinking. 

The moment he began to feel anxiety, he began to fear another panic attack and his thoughts would turn to alcohol.

The happy end to this story of panic attacks and alcohol however is that he entered another program where in addition to alcohol addiction treatment he received cognitive behavior therapy in order to help deal with his anxiety.  The chain of anxiety and alcohol was broken and he learned more effective, healthier, and longer lasting ways to manage feelings of anxiety or panic.

Happy man! And no more complexity, trouble and grief over panic attacks and alcohol use! 


Kushner, M. G., Maurer, E. W., Thuras, P., Donahue, C., Frye, B., Menary, K. R., & Van Demark, J. (2013). Hybrid cognitive behavioral therapy versus relaxation training for co-occurring anxiety and alcohol disorder: A randomized clinical trial. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 81(3), 429-442