drunk man having panic attack - alcohol panic attack
Get A Fresh Start At Life

Recover from Mental Health and Behavioral Health Conditions

Alcohol and Panic Attacks: How are They Linked?

Understanding the interconnection between alcohol consumption and panic attacks is crucial, as both issues are prevalent yet often considered separately. This article aims to elucidate the complex dynamics between alcohol use and the incidence of panic attacks, offering insights into how alcohol can both precipitate and exacerbate these intense episodes of anxiety.

Understanding Alcohol and Panic Attacks

What Are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are intense, sudden bouts of fear or discomfort that arise abruptly and peak within minutes. Symptoms can be severe and include palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a sense of impending doom, or a fear of dying. People often mistake these overwhelming physical symptoms for a heart attack, which only adds to the anxiety.

Effects of Alcohol on the Nervous System

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Initially, it may reduce fears and worries, making you feel more relaxed. However, as your body processes the alcohol, this sedation can wear off quickly, leading to increased levels of anxiety and stress. Moreover, alcohol alters neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which can disrupt normal brain function and lead to mood swings, anxiety, and, ultimately, panic attacks.

Alcohol as a Trigger for Panic Attacks

For those susceptible to anxiety disorders, alcohol can serve as a significant trigger for panic attacks. The relaxing effect of alcohol can be deceptive; as the alcohol wears off, the sudden shift in brain chemistry can trigger panic attacks in people who are particularly sensitive.

Biological Link

Neurotransmitters and Alcohol

Alcohol affects several neurotransmitters in the brain, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin. GABA has a calming effect, while serotonin is associated with mood regulation. Alcohol disrupts the balance of these neurotransmitters, which can exacerbate anxiety and predispose individuals to panic attacks when the alcohol’s effects diminish.

Alcohol Withdrawal and Panic Attacks

Withdrawal from alcohol can be particularly challenging for heavy drinkers. As the body becomes dependent on alcohol, the absence of it can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as shakes, anxiety, and panic attacks. These symptoms can be intense and mimic those of panic attacks, making it a dual challenge for those trying to reduce or quit drinking.

Psychological and Social Factors

The Role of Stress and Alcohol

Stress is a common trigger for both increased alcohol use and panic attacks. Individuals often use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, not realizing that this can lead to a dependency that increases the frequency of panic attacks. 

Social Settings and Panic Attacks

Alcohol is often consumed in social settings, which can be challenging for individuals with social anxiety. The pressure to drink can lead to overconsumption, which in turn can trigger panic attacks in a social context. Understanding the dynamics of social anxiety and managing alcohol intake in these settings are crucial for those prone to panic attacks.

Managing Alcohol-Induced Panic Attacks

Treatment Options

Treating alcohol-induced panic attacks involves a comprehensive strategy that encompasses several methods tailored to address both the symptoms of panic and the underlying issues related to alcohol use.

  1. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): This approach uses medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines to manage symptoms of both panic attacks and alcohol withdrawal. Antidepressants can help stabilize mood and reduce the frequency of panic attacks, while benzodiazepines can be used temporarily to alleviate severe anxiety and withdrawal symptoms under strict medical supervision.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is highly effective for treating panic disorder and can be adapted to address issues related to alcohol use. This therapy helps individuals understand the connections between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and teaches them how to manage anxiety and avoid alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  3. Lifestyle Modifications: Encouraging healthy lifestyle choices is crucial. Regular physical exercise, adequate sleep, and a balanced diet can significantly improve mental health and reduce the impact of alcohol and anxiety on the body.
  4. Group Therapy and Support Networks: Participating in group therapy or support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Panic Disorder Support Groups can provide peer support and encouragement, which is vital for those recovering from alcohol dependence and managing panic attacks.
  5. Integrated Treatment Programs: For individuals facing both panic attacks and alcoholism, integrated treatment programs that address both issues simultaneously can be beneficial. These programs offer a blend of psychological therapy, peer support, and sometimes medical treatment.

Preventive Measures

Preventing alcohol-induced panic attacks involves understanding and mitigating the factors that contribute to both alcohol use and panic episodes.

  1. Stress Management Techniques: Since stress can trigger both drinking and panic attacks, learning and practicing stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can be beneficial.
  2. Avoiding Triggers: Individuals should be encouraged to identify and avoid triggers that lead to drinking or panic attacks. This could involve avoiding certain social settings, reducing caffeine intake, and maintaining a routine that includes sufficient rest and relaxation.
  3. Regular Medical Check-Ups: Regular visits to a healthcare provider can help monitor the effects of alcohol use on health and provide early intervention for anxiety symptoms. This proactive approach can prevent the escalation of panic attacks and reduce the reliance on alcohol.
  4. Building a Supportive Environment: Encouraging the development of a supportive social environment is crucial. This includes fostering relationships with family and friends who understand the individual’s challenges with alcohol and anxiety and can provide support rather than pressure to drink.

Start Your Healing journey

The link between alcohol and panic attacks is significant, with alcohol often acting as a catalyst for panic episodes. Increased awareness, appropriate alcohol use disorder treatment, and preventive strategies can greatly improve outcomes for individuals affected by both conditions.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction and panic attacks, or any substance abuse disorder, get in touch with Safe and Sound Treatment today. Our addiction treatment center is dedicated to helping individuals overcome the challenges of alcohol abuse and addiction.


Yes, alcohol can cause panic attacks to occur more frequently. The use of alcohol can alter brain chemistry and lower the threshold for panic attacks, particularly in individuals who are already prone to anxiety disorders and anxiety symptoms.

While any alcoholic beverage can trigger panic attacks in susceptible individuals, high-sugar and high-caffeine mixers can exacerbate this effect. Stimulants like caffeine can increase heart rate and feelings of nervousness, potentially leading to panic attacks.

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to severe anxiety and panic attacks, especially in those who have been heavy drinkers. The body becomes used to the depressant effects of alcohol, and removing it suddenly can shock the system, triggering withdrawal symptoms that mimic panic attacks.

Signs that panic attacks may be related to alcohol use include their occurrence during or after drinking periods, especially if you notice a pattern correlating with your alcohol consumption. Increased anxiety during hangovers or withdrawal periods can also be a sign.

If alcohol is triggering your panic attacks, it’s advisable to seek help from medical professionals such as a general practitioner, psychiatrist, or a therapist specializing in addiction and anxiety disorders. Support groups and treatment centers that focus on dual diagnosis (substance use and mental health issues) can also provide necessary support.