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Am I Having an Anxiety Attack or a Panic Attack?

Anxiety is common in detox and recovery. When your body has to readjust to functioning without drugs or alcohol, your neurotransmitters are all out of balance, and quite often you tip in the direction of anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. This is most severe during detox, when the shock to your system is the greatest, but it may take weeks or months to level out completely. It’s also possible or even likely that you had some anxiety issues before your addiction and those will remain after your chemistry has rebalanced. Whatever the case, at some point during treatment you may experience an anxiety attack or a panic attack.

Anxiety attacks and panic attacks can feel very similar, but not quite the same. “Anxiety attack” is not a clinical term and it refers to feelings of anxiety that are more intense than usual. You may feel restless and have trouble concentrating or you may be unable to sleep. You may be irritable and tense. Anxiety tends to be general and future-oriented. You may worry about the possibility of an awkward social encounter. You may worry that the neighbor’s dog will bark all night and you won’t be able to sleep and you’ll end up losing your job and then you’ll get evicted and be homeless, and so on. You can worry obsessively about anything. An anxiety attack might last hours or weeks.

A panic attack, on the other hand is much more sudden and severe. “Panic attack” is a clinical term that refers to intense fear, including a strong physiological response, that usually has no apparent cause. These come on suddenly and usually last 10 or 15 minutes. People suffering panic attacks often think they are suffering from heart attacks and go to the hospital.

Sometimes minor fluctuations in physiology, like an increased heart rate can quickly snowball. If you already feel anxious, you might interpret some innocuous feeling as something serious like a heart attack or stroke. Your heart starts racing and you can’t breathe. It might actually feel like a heart attack. You might start shaking and sweating. You might continue to feel anxious the rest of the day after the panic attack ends. What makes panic attacks especially bad is that if they have no apparent cause, you don’t know when another one might occur. The anticipation of a panic attack might cause another attack.

Both anxiety attacks and panic attacks are more likely if you are under a lot of stress, as you are in detox, treatment, and the early stages of recovery. It’s best to work with a therapist to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. Sometimes anxiety disorders require medication, but they can often be treated in other ways too. You might learn to identify distorted thinking, such as the fear that a barking dog will lead to your being homeless. You might also practice becoming comfortable with feelings of anxiety, so as to unlearn your anxiety triggers.

If you are still struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help. We offer medically assisted detox in a comfortable facility and we can help you decide the best way to move forward with your treatment. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.