There are many problems that can be caused by the medications used to control panic disorders. Unfortunately there also many problems that can go along with them that may outweigh their benefits. In order to fully understand why the medications should be avoided, you must first understand what panic attacks are, as well as the medications and how they work.
What exactly are panic attacks and why do I have them?
According to the Mayo Clinic website a panic attack is a “sudden episode of intense fear that develops for no apparent reason and that triggers severe physical reactions.” In a more detailed description, a panic attack is actually a physical reaction to stress that you may or may not be feeling. Some people can go a whole life time with only two or three or even no panic attacks while others can have them frequently, starting at an early age. Reasons for panic attacks vary from suddenly losing a loved one to seemingly minor everyday stresses like a pop quiz in your math class.
You could be having excessive panic attacks because you are taking on too many activities at school, preforming a grueling amount of tasks as a parent or because of a demanding job. You could even have a panic attack because you miss your family after going to college. Having a panic attack does NOT mean that there is anything wrong with you or your ability to cope with stress. Perhaps several little things have been ailing you and slowly building up feelings of worry. Maybe a shocking event that you weren’t prepared to handle so suddenly, like a death or even a good thing like a marriage proposal, surprises you enough to trigger an attack. This doesn’t mean that you are “mental” or crazy or weak, it just means that you are human.
What medications are used to treat panic attacks and what are their downfalls?
The medications that have been traditionally used to treat panic attacks are either antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety drugs. These normally deal with or effect one of the following:
Serotonin: A chemical in the brain the controls your mood, appetite, and anxiety levels, among other things.
Dopamine: Controls body movement and may also control motivation, reward responses, and addictive behaviors.
Norepinephrine: Largely influences your sleep.
The main medications that are used to manage panic attacks are called benzodiazepines (Atavan, Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin) but can also include antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, or Cymbalta etc…).
These medications have a great deal of negative effects like fatigue, clumsiness, confusion, dizziness, impaired thinking and judgment, memory loss, nausea, blurred vision and even depression. These are just the common side effects that a huge chunk of people taking the medications have experienced. Even more alarming, you can become unintentionally angry, and hostel; You can become implosive and even have hallucinations! On top of their unpleasant and risky effects, these drugs can be extremely addictive!
There is a large array of separate health and non-symptomatic issues that can occur with these drugs, too. If mixed with other medications like painkillers, sleeping pills, alcohol or even antihistamines, they can be fatal. If you are pregnant, they can lead to chemical dependency for the baby.
OK. So are these drugs really that bad for me?
It is the opinion of many medical doctors that these medications are just bad news. The unpleasant side effects are fairly common and there are just so many risks that it is worry-some to have someone on these medications unless it is absolutely needed.
There is, however, one instance that these medications have been proven useful in the treatment of panic disorders. This is when they are used temporarily and in conjunction with a psychotherapy known as CBT or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. CBT teaches the patient how to change their subtle behaviors, thoughts and reactions to stress and anxiety; It teaches the person how to understand and, in return, how to control their panic attacks. I helps them re-wire their thought process, in a way, so that they can stop a panic attack before it starts.
Ultimately, these previously mentioned medications should be avoided at all costs and should not be considered a permanent cure, but a temporary aid (if used at all) to help you function while getting psychotherapy to find the root of why you are having these attacks and how to handle them.