When we drink alcohol, it can definitely cause some feelings of anxiety. But can they cause something more significant, like a panic attack? This question is one that many want an answer to as they work on understanding their personal relationships with alcohol and mental health.

This blog explores whether there is a genuine link between alcohol consumption and the occurrence of panic attacks, taking a closer look at how alcohol affects the brain and the potential triggers for anxiety and panic.


What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is described as a sudden burst of intense fear, panic and discomfort that involves some very unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms.

This can include:

  • An increased heart rate
  • Feeling like your heart is pounding
  • Physically sweating
  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Visibly shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme waves of anxiety
  • A fear of losing control
  • In severe cases, genuinely believing you are going to die

These attacks can happen unexpectedly and are very disturbing to those who experience them. And, although panic attacks tend to be quite brief (only lasting for a few minutes to half an hour), they, at that moment, are debilitating to those who experience them. They also come without warning and can impact someone who is otherwise in a stable headspace.


How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down your brain and central nervous system. When you first start drinking, it can make you feel relaxed and happy because it releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good.

But if you keep drinking, those good feelings don’t last. After a while, you might start to feel anxious, irritable, or sad. Alcohol can also mess with your sleep, making you feel tired and groggy the next day. It can affect your judgment and coordination, making it harder to think clearly or move around safely.

In the long run, drinking too much alcohol can lead to more serious health problems and also lead to addiction. So, although a little bit of alcohol might make you feel good at first, it’s important to be careful and not drink too much. 


Can Alcohol Trigger Panic Attacks?

So, can drinking alcohol directly cause a panic attack? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, unfortunately.

Alcohol can affect each person differently, depending on factors like how much and how often they drink, their overall health, and their personal and family history of anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence.

However, what we do know is that many people experience increased feelings of anxiety or even panic attacks related to alcohol use, especially if they already experience anxiety.

See below for common reasons why alcohol abuse can be linked with increased anxiety or panic attacks.

  • Chemical Imbalance: Alcohol can disrupt the balance of chemicals in your brain. And that’s not just whilst you are drinking alcohol, but also as your body processes the alcohol. So, when your blood alcohol level suddenly drops after a period of drinking – it can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, which might trigger alcohol-induced panic attacks.
  • Sleep Disruption: Alcohol can interfere with your sleep patterns. It might help you fall asleep faster, but it often leads to poor-quality sleep and can have you waking up throughout the night. Lack of sleep can increase anxiety and make you more susceptible to panic attacks, especially if you have been diagnosed with a panic disorder.
  • Physical Stress: Drinking alcohol, especially heavily, puts physical stress on the body. Dehydration drops in blood sugar, and the physical withdrawal symptoms of a hangover can all contribute to feelings of anxiety, which, for some, may lead to experiencing alcohol-induced panic attacks.
  • Psychological Factors: If you have anxiety or are prone to panic attacks, you might find that alcohol only makes these issues worse. Some people may also worry about the consequences of their drinking, which can create a cycle of anxiety and drinking that leads to panic attacks.


Managing Alcohol Consumption to Reduce Panic Attacks

If you find that drinking alcohol seems to trigger panic attacks for you, please know that you are not alone. Many people also share this struggle, but the good news is that there are several things you can do to help manage or even prevent alcohol-induced panic attacks.

Here are some steps you can take to manage your symptoms:

  • Try to Moderate Your Drinking: Follow guidelines for moderate drinking. This is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Sometimes, less is more, especially if the anxiety alcohol is causing you is unbearable.
  • Track Your Triggers: Keep tabs on when you drink, how much you drink, and how you feel afterwards. This can help you identify patterns that trigger anxiety.
  • Manage Stress: Since stress can increase your risk of panic attacks, finding healthy ways to manage stress, like exercise, breathing exercises, meditation, or talking to a friend, can be beneficial.
  • Seek Professional Help: If alcohol is significantly affecting your life and causing you to feel anxious, consider talking to a doctor or counsellor who specialises in alcohol and anxiety issues. They can provide guidance tailored to your needs.
  • Consider Going Sober: If you’re finding that you’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks after drinking alcohol, it might just be best to stop drinking altogether. Your mental health will benefit from this, and if you’re worried about the social aspect of drinking – there are more alcohol-free alternatives than ever to help you transition to a sober lifestyle.
  • Support Networks: Joining a support group where others share similar experiences can be comforting and provide additional tips on how to manage anxiety and drinking.


Worried About Alcohol? Reach Out for Support Today

We hope you’ve found our article insightful. To summarise this article – not everyone who drinks will experience panic attacks, but there is a link between heavy or excessive drinking and increased anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks for some people.

If you’re worried or struggling with your alcohol intake, please get in touch today on 0800 880 7596.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: May 17, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.