Addiction Recovery

Panic Attack Vs. Anxiety Attack: The Differences

Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack? Know the Differences

Do you know the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack? Both of them can be frightening to experience. Learn more in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery

March 3, 2023

While anxiety is among the most common mental health disorders in the US, this does not mean that most people understand the reasons for suffering an anxiety attack or how it is different from panic attacks.

There is every chance of someone suffering from chronic anxiety for a lifetime ... but not seeking treatment simply because most people struggle to understand the many forms in which anxiety can make a significant impact on life. The first step to getting effective treatment is comprehending the problem.

Anxiety, Panic Attacks & Drug Addiction

Anxiety has existed as a psychological condition for a long time. Still, it is only lately that people have started sharing their struggles, and people understand that an anxiety disorder is as severe as a chronic health problem. This is not about a few days of nervousness before the wedding day or appearing for an examination. A person suffering from an anxiety disorder is usually experiencing constant anxiety, and the attack can be debilitating.

Anxiety needs to be diagnosed, controlled, and treated just like any other illness. Recent studies have also indicated that women are more prone to suffering from anxiety. People who tend to remain anxious are vulnerable to anxiety and panic attacks, and though these terms are used interchangeably, they are slightly different.

While behavioral health experts understand the fine difference between the two, reading more about the typical symptoms and signs associated with both conditions can help. It is also worth noting that people who use recreational drugs for a long time or those who indulge in using addictive drugs might suffer from anxiety as an addiction tends to affect the mind.

Similarly, people who have used hallucinogenic drugs are vulnerable to paranoia, panic attacks, and anxiety attacks. These can manifest during drug detox and the withdrawal period during addiction treatment. Further, transitioning back to normal life can cause anxiety even when people exit a drug rehab program. If the person clearly shows panic attack symptoms, using anxiolytic medications is acceptable. However, sometimes, medications are not sufficient.

The person's entire lifestyle must be overhauled, helping a person understand the triggers and coping methods. For some, adopting these anti-anxiety skills can take years. This is why the guidance of a mental health professional is significant.

A delay in seeking help often translates into compromising the quality of your life.

Know the Difference: Panic Attack Vs. Anxiety Attack Vs. Anxiety Disorder

In comparison to panic attacks, anxiety is more of a sustained state of mind. Anxiety overwhelms the emotional and psychological traits of the person. It is typically associated with a unique response pattern that does not seem to disappear. While anxiety is longstanding, panic attacks are more episodic. Anxiety may also be a risk factor for addiction.

Both can be very disruptive to daily life at school, work, or home. When anxiety is present for most time of the day, the person is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. However, certain situations and memories can suddenly cause anxiety to worsen. This is when an anxiety attack surfaces. It might seem very similar to a panic attack, and it takes a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or behavior therapy specialist to diagnose and establish the difference. It is nearly impossible for a person suffering from a panic attack to differentiate it from an anxiety attack. 

Which Are the Most Common Types of Anxiety Disorders?

  • GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD) A condition marked by a tendency always to be anxious. The person has excessive and unrealistic assumptions about reality. The person seems stressed without an actual stressor or situation.

  • SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER A state of anxiety associated with fear of dealing with social situations. The person is highly self-conscious in a crowd, classroom, or outdoors where there are other people.

  • OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD) A condition that makes the person develop uncontrolled rituals of checking, counting, recalling, and confirming minor things, creating day-long anxiety. The obsession with doing such things is compulsive and seems beyond controlled despite the person realizing the problem.

  • PHOBIAS Unexplained and unfounded fears about the smallest things or certain events or situations. The phobia can stress the person even when such a situation is merely mentioned.

What Is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is slightly different from an anxiety attack. A panic attack is more of an abrupt feeling of extreme fear. The person feels a sudden surge of discomfort often accompanied by symptoms like nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, or interrupted speech. Panic attacks don't last for a very long time. Instead, they are highly episodic in nature.

Typically, a panic attack will peak for a few minutes, and within a few hours, it will look as if it has settled. Some mental health experts follow a more textbook approach to define a panic attack, focusing on some primary symptoms of panic attacks that come out of the blue, usually without a real trigger.

In some cases, people with psychosis or phobia might suffer from panic attacks. A panic attack can peak and subside quickly and resurface again, leaving the person confused and others around unclear about how to handle the situation. Sometimes, a panic attack might surface at different times of the day; sometimes, it might be just one episode over a few weeks or even months.

It is also difficult to establish when the attack has surely subsided, as a major panic attack might be followed by an episode(s) with a lower-intensity attack. Whether it is repetitive or a standalone instance, the person is most likely to feel stressed at most times with a typical, worried-all-the-time trait. The profile of a panic attack sufferer might clearly indicate a personality that tends to remain on edge or gets easily stressed when navigating day-to-day social interactions and workplace scenarios.

Some common psychological symptoms of panic attacks:

  • Fear of losing psychological control

  • Fear of losing bodily control

  • Feeling disconnected

  • Morbid feelings or fear of dying

  • An unreal sense of melancholy that might seem like depression

  • Feeling detached – often called depersonalization

  • Some common physical symptoms of panic attacks:

  • Tingling

  • Shaking

  • Tremors

  • Feeling the chills

  • Sweating too much

  • Shortness of breath

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Heaviness in the chest

  • Feeling unsteady or dizzy

  • Symptoms of gastric distress

  • Heart palpitations that seem like a pounding heart

  • The feeling of choking or the throat becoming dry, hard to swallow

  • Strangely accelerated and strong heartbeats – the person refers to it feeling the heartbeat every minute

What Is an Anxiety Attack?

An anxiety attack tends to build up more. It is less likely to emerge entirely unexpectedly—many people can feel it coming though nothing can prepare a person for the intensity of the attack. Such a person has a typical profile of suffering from excessive worrying and overthinking situations. The person might seem inclined towards always thinking about the potential dangers in every case.

This anticipation can build up over a period. Then, the anxiety attack might surface as a state of extreme or heightened anxiety accompanied by many physical symptoms such as hot flashes and gastric troubles. People suffering from anxiety attacks might seem more vulnerable to irritable bowel syndrome or IBS symptoms. What feels like the "attack" is the outcome of many days, weeks, or months of living with anxiety. The build-up leading to the attack can last for several months.

An anxiety attack is usually diagnosed as less episodic than a panic attack. People with persistent anxiety symptoms or those suffering from any anxiety disorder might be more prone to suffering from repeated anxiety attacks. The attack might act out for a few hours and come back more recurringly than a panic attack.

The most common symptoms of an anxiety attack:

  • Muscle tension 

  • Thinking hard seems to stress out easily

  • Dizziness

  • Feeling lethargy throughout the day

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Fearing the worst for no reason

  • Being worried without a stressor

  • Inability to sleep properly

  • Finding it hard to concentrate

  • Easily irritated

  • Easily startled

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What Usually Causes Panic and Anxiety Attacks?

It is difficult to define a single or a group of causes that cause anxiety or panic disorders. Usually, people who develop such conditions often struggle to cope with the stress that comes with trauma, social interactions, or everyday life situations.

People prone to overthinking and with reduced interactions too might show a greater inclination towards developing these problems, but none of these can be considered a diagnosed reason. The person's genetic disposition and any medical or external factors either increase or restrict the tendency to suffer from panic attacks or anxiety. People with a substance abuse disorder problem, drug addiction, or finding a way to beat an addiction too might suffer from panic attacks or anxiety problems for a short while.

Some of the more acknowledged reasons for anxiety and panic disorders are:

  • Phobias 

  • Chronic pain

  • Post-traumatic stress

  • Medication side effects

  • The domestic environment

  • Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol

  • Triggers that bring back memories of past trauma

Addiction & Anxiety: What Is Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety due to a substance abuse problem is often referred to as substance-induced anxiety disorder. Each of these comes with a certain risk of developing anxiety by using a drug, experiencing the highs of a drug, trying to withdraw from drug use, and undergoing drug rehab. While nervousness and restlessness are common in such instances, there is a risk of suffering from a panic attack too.

The irony lies in the fact that some drugs meant to help a person relax or lose touch with reality for a few hours can also make anxiety symptoms worse. For example, suppose you or a loved one seems to have an addiction to alcohol, recreational drugs, or painkillers. In that case, the anxiety you suffer from might result from a substance-induced anxiety disorder.

This is because addiction can create an imbalance in the brain which controls our emotions and thoughts. When the balance of the brain's chemicals is affected by an abused substance, behavior patterns can change unexpectedly, and the person just might develop anxiety too. In addition, some drugs tend to make a person feel extremely anxious as the drug's effect wears away.

The more commonly linked, abused substances associated with an anxiety disorder include:

  • Caffeine

  • Tobacco

  • Prescription medications

  • Over-the-counter medications

  • Illegal street drugs like LSD

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Which Drug Addictions Can Worsen Panic Attack Symptoms?

If someone already has a panic disorder, most addictive drugs can worsen the symptoms and make the person even more anxious. Consider marijuana—a relaxing substance that can help people suffering from chronic pain. However, marijuana, despite the legalization of medical marijuana, is known to make anxiety symptoms worse in some people. While using medical marijuana in a controlled way might provide some pain relief, abusing marijuana can take a toll, capable of causing anxiety symptoms. The person might even suffer from panic attacks.

Similarly, alcohol too presents a predicament. Alcohol is often depicted as a helpful depressant that can help someone sleep or relieve intense pain. However, consuming too much alcohol can cause intoxication. This is when people start losing their composure. They might lose control over their thinking pattern, and the intoxicated mind becomes vulnerable to panic attacks.

Even when people try to get sober and abstain from alcohol, the withdrawal process can be demanding, with symptoms such as panic attacks or anxiety problems worsening. Some people might relapse just because the anxiety symptoms during withdrawal can get unbearable. 

Drugs that are more closely associated with panic attacks:

Panic Attack, Anxiety Attack, & Addiction: The Edge Treatment Center Can Help

Anxiety disorders often accompany drug & alcohol addiction. If you're tired of feeling the pressure of panic attacks, anxiety attacks, and more, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center.

Our trauma-informed facility is an outpatient drug rehab aimed at treating both mental disorders and addictions. With a specialized dual diagnosis track, The Edge Treatment Center will help you build a happy, new life for yourself.

Contact The Edge Treatment Center to learn more.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.