Dual Diagnoses of mental health and addiction 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.


What Happens During a Panic Attack?
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:

Speaking in front of a group
Meeting other people at a party
Riding an elevator or escalator
Driving a car
Riding public transportation
The causes of panic may vary, but the end result is the same: an onslaught of alarming symptoms that make the individual fear for her life. These symptoms may include:

Irregular heartbeat
Difficulty breathing
Chest pain
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.


Turning to Drugs and Alcohol
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 and panic disorders 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

Diagnosis and Treatment
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.

The nature of panic disorder can interfere with a client’s recovery goals in rehab. Patients who panic in social situations may have difficulty sharing their experiences in front of a group. The overwhelming fear of death, illness, injury or catastrophe may distract them in counseling sessions and peer group support meetings.The psychiatrists and therapists who treat these complicated patients must have extensive training in Dual Diagnosis treatment in order to overcome the challenges to recovery.
Treatment With Medication

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.