Dual Diagnoses — the coexisting problems of addiction and mental illness — are often hard to treat because of the unstable nature of the individuals involved. Couple that with the fact that drugs and alcohol only make a mental condition worse, and you’ve got a high-risk patient who could easily spiral out of control. This is especially true for those Dual Diagnosis patients who suffer from panic disorder, a condition that causes episodes of severe mental distress combined with the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Panic disorder puts the individual on shaky emotional ground, dreading the onset of an attack at any moment. In fact, the fear of having a panic attack is just as debilitating for these patients as the attacks themselves. They often avoid public situations and have difficulty maintaining relationships or holding jobs because of their overwhelming fears.
Alcohol or drugs may temporarily relieve the distress of panic disorder, but ultimately these substances only intensify the symptoms of anxiety. Dual Diagnosis treatment facilities are equipped to handle the challenges of co-occurring disorders and to help these individuals experience the benefits of recovery in a comfortable, secure environment.
When you’re confronted with a situation that threatens your safety, your body experiences a series of reactions know n as the “fight or flight” response. In order to prepare you to flee the situation or to face the threat directly, your heart rate and breathing accelerate as your system releases chemicals like adrenalin to give you extra strength and speed. During a panic attack, an individual will experience similar symptoms, even if there’s no real threat involved. A panic attack may occur in response to situations that the general public finds harmless, such as:
Panic disorder may be more common than you think. According to Psychology Today, one out of every 75 people in the US between the ages of 18 and 64 will experience panic disorder at least once during their lifetime. Most attacks last for about 10 minutes, and the average person with the disorder will have at least one attack per week for four weeks or more. These experiences are rarely, if ever, fatal, but to the person suffering the attack, the symptoms can seem life-threatening. The fear of having future attacks and losing control in public is one of the defining characteristics of panic disorder.
Those with panic disorder often turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of calming themselves down or numbing their fear of an impending attack. Substance abuse becomes an escape of sorts for these individuals, who may develop an addictive disorder as a result of frequent drug or alcohol use. Unfortunately, because alcohol and drugs can trigger panic attacks, this attempt at self-medication often makes the disorder worse.
A study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that alcoholism occurs in 10 to 40 percent of people who have panic disorder, and that 10 to 20 percent of individuals with panic disorder struggle with substance abuse. In most cases, the symptoms of anxiety begin before alcoholism develops, confirming that substance abuse is often used as a way to self-medicate for anxiety. In spite of the harmful consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, many people with a Dual Diagnosis believe that drinking or using drugs are effective ways to curb their symptoms.
As part of the recovery process, patients with a Dual Diagnosis must learn healthy, sober ways to manage their panic symptoms in order to break the cycle of substance abuse. Goals of treatment include restoring a state of inner balance, so the patient with panic disorder can focus on drug or alcohol rehabilitation.
As with any Dual Diagnosis, finding the right treatment can be difficult. Sometimes, it is hard to ascertain if the symptoms are a result of the mental illness or the addiction. There is a lot going on both inside and out with these individuals, which makes their state a fragile one. A treatment program for panic disorder and substance abuse must address the sources of anxiety and help the client overcome the need to turn to drugs or alcohol.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, a treatment plan for panic disorder and substance abuse should integrate the use of medication and psychosocial therapies. Antidepressants are an effective way for many Dual Diagnosis patients to achieve stability in their brain chemistry and to manage their responses to anxiety. Specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) have been used with good results to help patients with panic disorder improve social functioning and lead satisfying, productive lives.
As part of an integrated rehabilitation program, patients with panic disorder must learn practical coping strategies that they can apply in their day-to-day lives. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often employed in the treatment of panic disorder. Patients are gradually exposed to the source of their anxiety and taught to handle their reactions to severe stress in productive ways. Through individual counseling sessions, self-help support groups and 12-step programs, they develop a support system and deepen their motivation to recover.
When it comes time for drug rehab, it is strongly recommended that the individual with both an addiction and panic anxiety disorder turn to a facility that is equipped to handle Dual Diagnosis clients. Not only to these facilities have psychologists on staff to work on the panic disorder, they also treat the addiction and the mental illness simultaneously. This type of integrated treatment has proven highly effective for patients with co-occurring disorders. If an individual is able to get help for their addiction and their psychiatric disorder through a single program, chances are they will experience greater success in their recovery. Close collaboration among the members of the treatment team helps a great deal in getting that person the help he needs.
Remember, when treating a Dual Diagnosis, it is crucial to work with people who know the special nature of the condition. We provide that expertise, and so much more, to our patients.