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The Connection Between Alcohol and Panic Attacks: What You Need to Know

Do you drink alcohol to reduce the number of panic attacks you experience? Many people do this, but the end result is often experiencing more panic attacks. We explore why this is in this blog from Holina Rehab.

There are better ways of treating panic attacks. If you would like to stop drinking and learn better coping techniques for your panic attacks, contact Holina Rehab in Koh Phangan, Thailand on +66 (0) 626 418 369 for help.

What are Panic Attacks?

Before we explore the connection between alcohol and panic attacks, let’s first look at what panic attacks are. Panic attacks are sudden, intense surges of fear and anxiety that can manifest physically and psychologically. Common symptoms include rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, sweating, and a feeling of impending doom. These episodes can be incredibly distressing and may occur unexpectedly or in response to specific triggers.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

To understand the link between alcohol and panic attacks, you need to understand how alcohol affects your body and mind. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. When you start drinking, it can create feelings of relaxation and euphoria by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has calming effects.

While these effects might seem beneficial for someone dealing with anxiety, the body’s response to alcohol is more complicated. As your body metabolizes alcohol, the levels of these neurotransmitters fluctuate, leading to potential instability in mood and anxiety levels.

Alcohol can also disrupt your sleep patterns, which is a significant factor in anxiety and panic attacks. Poor sleep can increase your vulnerability to stress and anxiety, setting the stage for more panic attacks.

The Vicious Cycle of Alcohol and Anxiety

If you begin drinking alcohol to solve your anxiety or panic attacks, you can get stuck in a cycle of alcohol use. You might turn to alcohol to cope with anxiety or panic attacks, believing it will help you relax and manage your symptoms. In the short term, this can be effective. But as the effects of alcohol wear off, you are likely to experience a rebound effect where your anxiety and panic symptoms return even more intensely. This is partly due to the body’s attempt to restore balance after the depressant effects of alcohol, leading to heightened nervous system activity.

This cycle can quickly become self-perpetuating. Increased anxiety and the likelihood of panic attacks lead you to drink more, exacerbating the problem over time. This pattern can be particularly challenging to break, as the immediate relief provided by alcohol can make it an appealing, albeit temporary, solution.

Alcohol-Induced Panic Attacks

For some people, alcohol can directly trigger panic attacks. This can happen for several reasons. Firstly, alcohol can cause significant fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. When these levels drop suddenly, it can cause symptoms similar to those of a panic attack, such as dizziness, confusion, and rapid heart rate. If you are already prone to anxiety, these symptoms can trigger a full-blown panic attack.

The physical effects of alcohol withdrawal can also mimic or trigger panic attacks. If you are addicted to alcohol you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop, including increased heart rate, sweating, and anxiety.

The Role of Underlying Anxiety Disorders

If you have an underlying anxiety disorder, the relationship between alcohol and panic attacks becomes even more pronounced. People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, or panic disorder often turn to alcohol as self-medication. While alcohol might temporarily alleviate anxiety symptoms, it can worsen the overall condition in the long run.

For instance, if you suffer from panic disorder, consuming alcohol might reduce the frequency of panic attacks initially. But as your tolerance to alcohol builds, you may find that you need to drink more to achieve the same calming effects. This increased consumption can lead to a higher risk of alcohol dependence and more severe anxiety symptoms over time.

Strategies for Managing Alcohol and Panic Attacks

If you recognize a connection between your alcohol consumption and panic attacks, there are several strategies you can adopt to manage this issue effectively.

Monitor Your Drinking Habits

Keeping a journal of your drinking patterns and anxiety levels can help you identify any correlations between alcohol and panic attacks. This awareness can be the first step towards making healthier choices.

Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol

Reducing your alcohol intake or eliminating it altogether can significantly decrease your risk of panic attacks. Joining a support group can be beneficial if you find it challenging to cut back.

Practice Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Instead of relying on alcohol to manage anxiety, explore other coping strategies such as exercise, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy. These activities can help reduce your anxiety levels without the negative effects associated with alcohol.

The Importance of Support

Dealing with both alcohol and panic attacks can be overwhelming, but you do not have to face it alone. Reaching out to friends, family, or support groups can provide you with the encouragement and assistance you need to make positive changes. Sharing your experiences with others who understand what you are going through can be incredibly validating and can help you feel less isolated.


In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage anxiety and panic attacks. Speak with your healthcare provider about your symptoms and any concerns you have about alcohol use. They can recommend appropriate treatment options, which may include medications to help manage your anxiety without the need for alcohol.

Professional Help

If you are struggling with both alcohol use and panic attacks, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic approaches can help you address the root causes of your anxiety and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

If you believe you have an addiction to alcohol and cannot stop drinking, it is time to get help. Alcohol addiction is progressive, and can be fatal without the right kind of support.

The most effective way of treating alcohol addiction is at an addiction treatment center. Here, you can spend time away from your triggers and the stress of everyday life in a safe and supportive environment.

At rehab, you can begin looking at the reasons why you began having panic attacks while at the same time addressing any other underlying issues that may lead you to drink. The individual and group therapy you receive while at an addiction treatment center can be the most important work you do towards recovery, and can mean that you can live a life both without alcohol and without panic attacks.

Liberty Home Addiction Treatment Center in Cape Town

The feeling of having to drink to stave off panic attacks is awful. You may feel like your life is out of control, and that you will never be able to stop drinking or having panic attacks. Fortunately, this could not be further from the truth.

The professionals at Lliberty Home have helped countless people overcome these two conditions, and we can help you too. To connect with a member of our team and find out more, contact us on +66 (0) 626 418 369.

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