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J Clin Psychiatry. 1995;56 Suppl 2:3-9.

Treating anxiety in patients with alcoholism.

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Depression Evaluation Service, New York State Psychiatric Institute, NY 10032.


The clinical management of patients who present with anxiety syndromes combined with alcohol abuse or dependence is reviewed. A critical step is to make the differential diagnosis between alcohol-induced anxiety (principally alcohol withdrawal) and anxiety disorders per se. Interview and examination techniques useful in making this differential are presented. Clinical management of and pharmacotherapy for alcohol withdrawal are outlined. Anxiety disorders that can be comorbid with alcoholism include panic disorder, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychotherapeutic and pharmacotherapeutic measures for each of these in the setting of alcoholism are suggested, and various possible interrelationships between anxiety disorders and alcoholism are considered. Although anxiety disorders may contribute to the underlying etiology of alcoholism in some cases, alcohol abuse tends to take on a life of its own. Treatment of an anxiety disorder can rarely, if ever, be expected to cure alcoholism. Therefore, the need to institute simultaneous treatment aimed at establishing and maintaining sobriety is emphasized. Research on anxiety disorders and alcoholism is as yet inadequate to fully answer many clinical questions about their relationship and their appropriate diagnosis and management. More research is needed in this area.

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