Feelings of panic and anxiety are quite common among those entering treatment for addiction. In fact, drugs and alcohol themselves often bring on panic and anxiety; when we enter treatment, these feelings are exacerbated by our fear of being “deprived” of our addictive substances.
While both panic and anxiety are distressing and debilitating, it’s important to distinguish between these two types of attacks. So what, exactly, is the difference?
Panic attacks are short, but very intense, bursts of extreme fear and distress. Panic attacks typically have a sudden onset and are characterized by heart palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, dizziness, nausea, chills or hot flashes, and an intense feeling that we are about to die.
Panic attacks may be caused by a number of physical factors, including low blood sugar, heart attack or other heart condition, and overactive thyroid. In physically healthy people, panic attacks are typically the result of social phobias, such as speaking in front of an audience or taking public transportation. Panic attacks are often brought on a fear of being trapped, as when sitting in a traffic jam, taking an elevator, being surrounded by a large crowd of people, or flying in an airplane.
Repeated occurrences of panic attacks are known as panic disorder, which arises over the fear of the panic attack itself.
Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are characterized by a more unrealistic fear of the future and may occur over a longer period of time. Often, anxiety attacks are associated with feelings of being nervous or anxious, racing thoughts, irritability, anger, or hypersensitivity, and muscle tightness. Those who suffer from anxiety attacks typically experience difficulty in concentrating, sleeping, and socializing with others.
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by undue or unrealistic worry over a period of many months.
Recognizing and identifying panic and anxiety attacks as they arise helps to remove their power over us and restore us to a state of equilibrium. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice in helping us to identify the triggers for these two types of psychological disturbance. Medications also may be of short-term benefit.
When we are experiencing panic or anxiety, it’s important to ask ourselves, “Am I safe at this moment?” With patience and practice, we learn to overcome our unreasonable fears, and remain calm and “in the moment.”
Hope exists in recovery. Design For Change offers a refuge for addicts seeking recovery in a long term residential program with a full continuum of care options. Grounded in the 12 step philosophy, our programs focus on creating change by taking action. Call us today for information on how we are changing lives, one step at a time: (877) 267-3646