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March 1996

The Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Laboratory-Induced Panic and State Anxiety

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychiatry (Drs Kushner and Mackenzie and Ms Anderson), Psychology (Ms Fiszdon), and Physiology (Dr Wangensteen), University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; the Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn (Dr Valentiner); and the Department of Psychiatry, Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (Dr Foa).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(3):264-270. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830030086013

Background:  This study tested whether alcohol consumption reduces anxiety and panic associated with a panic-challenge procedure.

Methods:  Subjects with panic disorder were randomly assigned to consume either a moderate dose of alcohol or a nonalcoholic placebo. All subjects were told that they were drinking alcohol to control beverage expectancies. Following the beverage administration, subjects underwent a panic challenge (35% carbon dioxide) and a series of anxiety symptom assessments.

Results:  Subjects who consumed alcohol reported significantly less state anxiety both before and after the challenge. In response to the challenge, subjects who consumed alcohol experienced significantly fewer panic attacks when applying liberal panic criteria; however, this effect only approached significance when applying conservative panic criteria.

Conclusions:  These findings suggest that alcohol acts acutely to reduce both panic and the anxiety surrounding panic, and they lend support to the view that drinking behavior among those with panic disorder is reinforced by this effect. We suggest that this process may contribute to the high rate at which alcohol-use disorders co-occur with panic disorder.