Alcohol is a confusing drug. On the one hand, alcohol damages your body - especially if you drink it often. On the other hand, the occasional alcoholic beverage appears to be fairly safe, especially if you don't binge drink and take lifestyle precautions. It's difficult to call alcohol "bad," without knowing how much a person has and whether or not they live in a way that's damaging to their psychological or physical health.
But when you have panic attacks, alcohol can become fairly harmful. Those with panic attacks suffer from a condition that alcohol often makes worse, and while the occasional drink "should" still be okay, it's possible that even one drink can trigger more panic attacks and related anxiety.
Alcohol Creating Your Panic?
Panic attacks can be triggered by alcohol - both while you drink and during your hangover. But it usually only affects those that already have anxiety. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test can score your anxiety and panic, compare it to others, and find ways to treat it.
Panic Attacks Can Be Controlled
While alcohol can make your panic attacks worse, alcohol itself doesn't cause panic attacks on its own. In other words, even if you stop drinking alcohol, you are still going to have panic attacks - you simply won't have alcohol triggering them.
You can stop your panic attacks by choosing an effective panic attack treatment. The best treatments are based on your symptoms. Click here to start my free anxiety test and fill out your symptoms for more information.
Causes of Panic Attacks From Alcohol
Alcohol doesn't directly cause panic attacks, in the sense that those with panic disorder suffer from panic attacks with or without alcohol. But alcohol can cause panic attack triggers. There are several reasons for this, which will be discussed below, but the key thing to remember is that those with panic attacks suffer from an issue known as hypersensitivity.
Hypersensitivity is when a person is so sensitive to changes in their body, that they can't help but notice them. Every day you go through very minor aches, pains, heart rhythm changes, and so on. Most people barely notice them, or pass them off as if they're not important. Those with panic attacks always notice them, and when they do they cause a flood of anxiety that can lead to a panic attack.
Some of the ways that alcohol can contribute to panic attacks includes:
- Dehydration A very common problem with all forms of anxiety, including panic attacks, is the caused by the dehydration brought on by excessive alcohol use. Alcohol is a known diuretic, causing excessive urination and the expulsion of water from the body. For every drink you have, you urinate as much as 50 to 100% more water - water that is taken from other parts of your body. Dehydration causes a host of symptoms that can make your anxiety worse, and cause physical sensations that trigger panic attacks.
- Flu Like Symptoms During hangovers, alcohol can cause flu like symptoms, including aches and pains all over the body. Interestingly, hangovers don't trigger panic attacks as often as you'd think because your mind can "explain" the symptoms away, but it can still have an effect, especially if the symptoms feel like they're getting worse for any reason.
- Dizziness and Rapid Heartbeat While drinking (and sometimes after drinking), alcohol can cause sensations of dizziness, rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, and other symptoms that are known to trigger panic attacks, especially in those with health anxiety.
- Poor Body Functioning Alcohol also simply causes parts of the body, especially hormones, to function poorly. When the body experiences physical stress it also tends to experience mental stress, and that mental stress can translate into an increase in anxiety attacks.
- Stressful Mistakes Finally, when you drink, you often make foolish mistakes. To someone without panic attacks, these mistakes may be stressful but not otherwise impact their lives. For those with panic attacks, that stress only adds to the stress you already suffer from as a result of your attacks, and may make it more likely to suffer from a panic attack later.
Although alcohol doesn't trigger a panic attack directly with any guarantee, it does affect parts of the mind and body that ultimately may contribute to the development of a panic attack, and it does so with more frequency than other types of healthier beverages.
Problems With Self-Medicating With Alcohol
Another problem with drinking alcohol is that it can accidentally cause self-medication. When you suffer from panic attacks and anxiety, it implies that your natural ability to cope with stress is suffering. You need to rebuild that coping ability in order to cure your panic attacks.
But when you use a drug often enough, your brain starts to turn towards the drug to cope and you can actually lose even more of your ability to stop panic attacks. Eventually, when you don't drink alcohol, you may also suffer from panic attacks even more often than you did before drinking, especially if you drink every day or to numb your anxiety. This is an additional problem caused by alcohol consumption.
Do You Need to Stop Drinking?
It would be a stretch to say that you need to stop drinking altogether. Your panic attacks won't go away if you cut out alcohol, and drinking alcohol doesn't guarantee a panic attack. In moderation, alcohol may not contribute much to your panic disorder at all.
But the risk is there, which is why those that have panic attacks should strongly consider avoiding alcohol as best they can. Alcohol is still a drug like any other, and anything that affects your body like alcohol does has the potential to contribute a great deal to your panic attack problems.
Whether or not you drink, your panic attacks need to be addressed separately. Cutting out alcohol will help you cope better, and should reduce the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack, but it won't stop them altogether.
For that, take my free anxiety test. The test is specifically designed to help those with panic attacks and anxiety better understand their symptoms and get a recommended treatment option.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.