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24 hours rehab

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24 hours rehab
Immediate Access for help and advice

Panic Attacks Explained

Those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol could experience withdrawal symptoms during the process of detoxification. This process involves cutting back on the amount of the substance an individual takes until the substance is entirely out of their system.

However, detoxification is not usually 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.

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What Is a Panic Attack?

Whether or not during a substance withdrawal, people suffering from an addiction may experience panic attacks. A panic attack is the sudden and abrupt onset of extreme anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms and an inability to control one’s emotions.

For those who experience panic attacks, the episodes can be extremely frightening and distressing as they often occur very quickly and for no apparent reason.

Panic attacks are usually characterised by a feeling of intense unease or fear. They can be a symptom of other mental health conditions, such as generalised anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder or a symptom of withdrawal.

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Types of Panic Attack

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. There are known triggers and warning signs which can be noticed before the episode occurs.

Unexpected panic attacks are different, as they occur with no prior warning or apparent 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.


Generally, panic attacks are caused by the body entering “fight or flight” mode. This would mean that the body’s having an acute stress response to events or experiences that it perceives to be harmful or a threat to survival. During this time, the body triggers the adrenal glands that release adrenaline and noradrenaline.

This response is what helps people manage or predict dangerous situations. However, anxiety disorders cause the response to be triggered too quickly or in a scenario where it is not even 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 into this defensive 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 without an actual experience or medical education can mistake a panic attack for a heart attack because of this symptom.

Other common symptoms include sweating, trembling, shortness of breath and dizziness. Sometimes patients also experience a feeling of their throat closing up.

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