01 August 2007

Boozing tied to agoraphobia

People who have panic disorder with agoraphobia often develop an alcohol use disorder, and vice versa

People who have panic disorder with agoraphobia often develop an alcohol use disorder, and vice versa - each condition may directly contribute to the development of the other, according to a report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

”Alcohol use disorders and panic disorder with, or without, agoraphobia tend to occur within the same individual," Dr Eric J. L. Griez, of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and colleagues write.

Agoraphobia is the abnormal, obsessive, intense fear of open places or open areas. People with agoraphobia may become anxious by just thinking about a situation where it might be difficult to leave, and they will avoid the situations that trigger anxiety or panic, even if it means confinement to the home.

What links agoraphobia-panic disorder to alcohol abuse?
The cause of this agoraphobia-panic condition is controversial, the researchers note. Three explanations have been offered to explain these behaviours.

The first suggests that panic disorder with agoraphobia promotes excessive alcohol use as self-medication. Second, chronic alcohol abuse and alcohol withdrawal induce neurochemical changes that promote panic. The third possibility is the some people are genetically predisposed to developing both disorders.

The researchers conducted a review of epidemiological, family, and laboratory studies on alcohol and panic disorders. A total of 20 studies were included in the analysis.

Based on their analysis of the data, the investigators found that in patients with panic disorder with agoraphobia, alcohol appears to decrease the level of anxiety, which reduces the likelihood of panic.

In alcohol abusers, they found that alcohol increases carbon dioxide sensitivity, thereby promoting panic.

A clear pattern of family transmission was also found to contribute to the occurrence of both panic and alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol makes agoraphobic patients panic
"As far as panic disorder with agoraphobia patients are concerned, the 'self-medication' hypothesis appears to be valid," Griez and colleagues conclude. "In the case of alcoholic patients, the hypothesis that alcohol may trigger the onset of panic is most likely."

The investigators would like to see if the same relationship exists between panic disorder and other substances of abuse. "In general, increasing the knowledge on panic and substance abuse should guarantee that more instruments are used in clinical practice to treat patients, prevent complications, and improve their quality of life." - (Reuters Health)

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, June 2007.

Read more:
Anxiety disorders
What are the symptoms of a panic attack?


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.