Alcoholism and panic disorder: is the comorbidity more than coincidence?


*David T. George, M.D., National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Building 10/3B19, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA


Studies on alcoholic patients have found a higher than expected prevalence of panic disorder, and suggest a positive correlation between the level of alcohol consumption and severity of anxiety. Conversely, there is an increased prevalence of alcoholism among patients with panic disorder and their blood relatives. A comparison of symptoms, physiological and neurochemical changes known to occur in both alcohol withdrawal and panic disorder reveals a degree of similarity between the 2 conditions. Based on the data, we propose that the chemical and cognitive changes occurring as the result of repeated alcohol withdrawals may kindle and condition coincidence of panic attacks in susceptible individuals. Implications of our postulates for treatment of alcohol withdrawal and panic disorder in alcoholics and for future studies are discussed.