Panic Attacks Explained
Those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol often experience withdrawal symptoms during the process of detoxification. This process involves cutting back on the amount of the substance an individual takes until they are no longer dependent on the substance.
However, in most cases, detoxification should not be an abrupt process. Once a person is physically or psychologically dependent on a substance, their body or mind will struggle to cope without it.
These reactions to the removal of a substance are referred to as withdrawal symptoms. There are numerous types of withdrawal symptoms, although one of the most frequently experienced is panic attacks.
What Is a Panic Attack?
Many people experience panic attacks in their lives, whether or not they are experiencing substance withdrawal symptoms. A panic attack is the sudden and abrupt onset of extreme anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms.
For those who experience panic attacks, the episode can be extremely frightening and distressing as they often occur very quickly and for no clear reason.
Panic attacks are usually characterised by a feeling of intense unease or fear and can be a symptom of other mental health conditions, such as generalised anxiety disorders, as well as a symptom of withdrawal.
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Types of Panic Attack
Panic attacks can take a variety of different forms, although the DSM-5 considers there to be two main types of panic attacks: expected panic attacks and unexpected panic attacks.
Expected panic attacks refer to panic attacks that an individual anticipates after exposure to a triggering experience, event or place. For example, for individuals who suffer from social anxiety, spending time in stressful social scenarios would be an obvious trigger for their anxiety to become heightened and for them to subsequently experience a panic attack.
Unexpected panic attacks are different, as they occur with no prior warning or clear cause. This type of panic attack is not triggered by internal cues such as anxious or fearful thoughts, and a person can be entirely relaxed when the symptoms begin. These types of attacks also do not occur as a result of stressful external cues, such as frightening events.
Causes of Panic Attack
Generally, panic attacks are caused by the body entering fight or flight mode. Fight or flight mode is the body’s acute stress response to events or experiences that it perceives to be harmful or a threat to survival. During the fight or flight response, the body triggers the adrenal glands that release adrenaline and noradrenaline.
This response is what helps people respond to dangerous situations. However, anxiety disorders cause the response to be triggered too quickly in a scenario where it is not necessary. Therefore, existing mental health conditions are a likely cause of panic attacks.
Withdrawal from drug or alcohol addiction is also a common cause of panic attacks, as substances often change the function of the body or mind and so, when the substance is removed, the body enters fight or flight mode.
Symptoms of Panic Attack
The symptoms a patient experiences during a panic attack can differ greatly from person to person, and their severity can range from mild to severe. The most common symptom of a panic attack is the feeling of an irregular or racing heartbeat. This symptom is directly caused by the fight or flight response. People can often mistake a panic attack for a heart attack because of this symptom.
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