Depression, Anxiety, and Panic Attacks

Anxiety, Depression, and Panic Attacks are common complaints of people who use street drugs. Sometimes, these problems are actually a result of street drug use. Withdrawal from opioids can cause severe anxiety and depression. Being high on cocaine can cause anxiety. Coming down off of cocaine can cause depression. Prolonged use of marijuana can cause mild chronic anxiety or depression.

If it has been several weeks since you last used any street drugs, and you still have some residual anxiety or depression, there may be something else going on. The causes of these symptoms can be many. You may now be seeing the damage the drugs have caused to your life. You may think that repairing this damage is overwhelming. This damage may be in the form of injured relationships, body parts, jobs, or any number of other things that are now important to you that were not important to you while you were using drugs. The good news is that it’s most of these things can in fact be repaired. Have hope, and ask for help. It is hard to do it alone.

Some people may have been using drugs to self medicate their anxiety and depression. If this is the case, then when the street drug addiction is treated, they are left with their underlying mental health issues that have not yet been addressed by a professional. Although the best way to treat this is to see a professional counselor, it is often difficult to find one that is free. Ask your doctor about this, and hopefully they can help you find one, or they may able to help you themselves.

Panic attacks are a sudden rush of anxiety and other feelings that lead to a “feeling of impending doom.” Commonly, people have problems breathing and focusing their attention, as well as many other symptoms such as chest pain, sweating, and many many more things. If you experience any of these symptoms, please consult the doctor first. The most important thing is to rule out something that is physically wrong. These symptoms are very similar to heart attacks and other very severe medical conditions. Once these medical conditions have been ruled out, then you are left with the diagnosis of panic attacks. At this point, you can move on to treating them through some the techniques noted below.

Often the full-blown panic attack is a result of just worrying about having a panic attack itself. When you feel a panic attack starting, you may start thinking “oh my God I’m going to have a panic attack”. You may then think about this over and over again, concentrating on the physical feelings that you are experiencing. Obviously, this will make a panic attack much worse. The best way to deal with this, is to try to keep your mind off of the panic attack and “talk yourself out of it.” Some counselors call this “riding the wave.” The idea is not to fight the panic feelings, but to accept them, let them flow through you, and concentrate on something else while you wait for the feelings to leave. Many of my patients have tried these techniques, and find that their panic attacks last 30 seconds to one minute if they use these techniques.

The basic idea, is to try to distract your attention from the panic attack onto something else. Choose ONE technique from each of the 2 categories, and work on them. If they don’t seem to be working, try another. Make sure you try it at least once a day. Give it some time, maybe a week. Don’t try too many at once, just one at a time.

1) Distraction Techniques

Exercise – Pushups, Walk, Hike, Bike

Talk to friends
Take photographs
Write a Journal, Poems, Story (some of the best creativity comes from artists at time of great emotional pain)
Play a musical instrument
Play video games
Paint your nails

Cry (this is very good at releasing internal chemicals that will make you feel better)
Throw rolled up socks, pillows, or foam balls against the wall
Scream into a pillow or a secluded place
Punching a pillow

1) Self Soothing Techniques

The second technique is to soothe yourself by using your five senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. To find a technique that is good for you, just think about these five senses, and come up with something that you enjoy. The list below is simply a list of examples that you may find helpful.

Carry around a small bottle of perfume or other smell that you enjoy – smell it when you’re feeling bad or about to enter panic attack

A piece of fabric, leather, fur, or even an ice cube that you can rub your hand on and concentrate on the feeling

Eat – chocolate, salty foods, or whatever you find comforting (but watch your weight)
Watch TV movie
Listen to music
Singing a song you like
Have sex with someone you care about
Take a bath

Concentrate on your surroundings:
How many different sounds can you hear? How many birds?
How many different smells can you notice?
Look at the sky and/or your enviroment around you and see how many shapes, textures, and colors you can identify

I hope you find these helpful. Please keep in mind that this is just the beginning. A counselor can help you identify what will help you specifically. They also may have other ideas that can help your case in particular. Good luck, and remember the idea is to enjoy yourself.

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