For many people that deal with anxiety or panic attacks, eventually, they will be faced with the question ‘to medicate or not to medicate’. While this is a decision that should be left up to you and your doctor, there are some signs that it might be time to consider medications in controlling your attacks.
Panic attacks that start for no reason
Everyone has their own individual triggers. These triggers might include stress, being dehydrated, being in social situations, or personal problems. But when the attacks start coming for no reason, absent of any triggers at all, it might be time to talk to your doctor about using medication for these breakthrough attacks.
When your start having severe physical symptoms
There have been cases where people have gone to the hospital, thinking they were having a heart attack, and it turned out to be a panic attack. If the panic attacks are causing physical pain or problems to the point that you suffer chest pain or find yourself gasping for air, it might be time to see a doctor about them.
When you’re no longer able to live a normal life
People with panic attacks might start to participate in ‘avoidance behaviors’. The behaviors generally come about from someone trying to avoid triggers. For the most part, avoiding triggers is a good way to manage attacks. But when the avoiding of triggers starts to take over your daily life, it might be time to talk to your doctor about going on medication for these attacks.
How often have you heard someone say “I need a drink” in relation to a stressful situation? While the occasional drink might be a nice way to relax for most people, alcohol can be extremely harmful when used by someone who has anxiety.
How does alcohol work?
To understand why alcohol is a trigger, you need to understand how it works on the body and the brain specifically. While alcohol doesn’t cause panic or anxiety disorders, it can trigger them.
Once enough alcohol is in your blood stream, it starts to affect your dopamine level. Dopamine is the body’s reward center. It helps you feel pleasure more intently and the more you drink, the more dopamine is released.
At the same time, alcohol also affects neurotransmitters in your body. These specific neurotransmitters are inhibitory neurotransmitters, which are needed to calm the body down and reduce energy. At the same time you are increasing your dopamine levels, you are also increasing these depressive transmitters.
Over time, the effects on the dopamine levels in the brain stop, while the release of neurotransmitters does not. This can cause periods of depression, which is often enough to trigger an anxiety attack.
How is it a trigger?
Aside from messing with your brain chemistry, alcohol has a domino effect that can increase the likelihood of hitting other anxiety and panic triggers.
Situational triggers – Alcohol reduces inhibitions, which can result in you saying or doing something you regret. The consequences of these uninhibited decisions can cause serious panic and anxiety attacks. Fights with friends or loved ones can make life even more difficult for an anxious person.
Dehydration – Dehydration resulting from the diuretic effect of alcohol can cause flu-like symptoms, which will increase depression and cause anxiety. Feeling ill is often a trigger for people with anxiety, and hangovers can increase the likelihood of triggering an attack.
Potential Addiction – Perhaps the biggest problem for those who use alcohol and have anxiety is the potential they have to become addicted. Alcohol might help mask the feelings of anxiety early on, but increase them later. The person drinking might use more and more to reduce that anxious feeling, but the side effects unintentionally cause more anxiety.
Short term use of alcohol might help reduce anxiety symptoms, but over time, the long term effects cause more anxiety than before.
The Dangers of Mixing Medicine
For people who use antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds, mixing alcohol can be dangerous or even deadly. These medications work to reduce brain activity and slow down the central nervous system. As alcohol can cause the same exact thing, these effects can become extremely dangerous.
If you have anxiety or panic disorders, there is nothing wrong with the occasional drink or two. But remember that because your brain works differently, your brain will be affected differently when you use alcohol. Those with anxiety have a stronger chance of addiction and a higher likelihood of triggering an attack when they don’t use alcohol responsibly.