What are the Links Between Phobias and Addiction?

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that affect 19 million U.S. adults. Unfortunately, having any mental health disorder, including a phobia, can significantly increase a person’s risk of abusing drugs or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol can seem like an effective way to dampen the symptoms of a phobia. But they are only temporary solutions and make problems worse for the sufferer.

Not only do drugs and alcohol not solve the underlying issues a person has, but they also negatively impact the sufferer in other areas of their life. It’s critical that people who enter drug rehab are also evaluated for an underlying mental health condition that could be fueling their disorder.

Phobias and Addiction

What is a phobia?

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder where the sufferer has an intense, irrational fear of a specific place, person, thing, or circumstance. There are dozens of phobias, and according to the most recent version of the DSM, phobias are divided into five distinct categories:

  • Fears related to animals, including insects and spiders.
  • Fears of the natural environment, such as a fear of heights, thunder, or a fear of the dark.
  • Intense fear and paranoia of injuries, blood, or a medical problem.
  • Phobias related to particular situations like flying, driving, or speaking in public.
  • Phobias unspecified.

Some of the most common phobias are:

  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of dogs
  • Fear of snakes
  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of germs
  • Fear of having a panic attack in public

What are the signs and symptoms of a phobia?

When a person encounters the place, person, or thing they are afraid of, they will experience an intense, irrational fight-or-flight response. Without outside intervention, people with a phobia are unable to control this response. Having a fight-or-flight response in a public setting can be incredibly distressing and embarrassing for people with phobias. In addition, specific objects of a phobia may be unavoidable for someone. People with social phobias often have a particularly difficult time coping without help from doctors and therapists. In other phobias, it can be impossible to predict when the object of a person’s phobia will appear.

The unpredictable nature of phobias can make a person incredibly anxious and on-edge, and cause them to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief from their anxiety. People with phobias know that what they fear and their response to it is irrational, but they can’t help themselves. They may be reluctant to seek help because they are embarrassed or ashamed. Even though society has come far with understanding and advocating for mental health patients, there is still a stigma attached to mental health disorders.

How are phobias and addiction linked?

Phobias and addiction are linked in two specific ways. The first way is that a phobia can lead someone to try drugs or alcohol to cope with their intense, irrational fear. On the other hand, a person who has been abusing drugs or alcohol for a long time may develop a phobia. Some of the medications that are used to treat phobias, including benzodiazepines, have a high risk of addiction and abuse. A phobia is a type of clinical anxiety disorder, and people with an anxiety disorder are two to three times as likely to abuse substances than people who do not have an anxiety disorder.

What types of phobias are most often associated with substance abuse and addiction?

Phobias that are difficult for a person to avoid in their day-to-day lives are often associated with higher rates of substance abuse. People with social phobias are at the highest risk of turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms.

  • Social phobias are incredibly disruptive. Sufferers will panic at parties, social gatherings, or even during small and brief interactions. People with this type of phobia are at incredibly high risk of turning to alcohol as a social lubricant and a way to avoid fear and anxiety when out in public. People with social phobia are also at risk of isolating themselves and becoming depressed without treatment and intervention.
  • A fear of crowds, called enochlophobia, is also associated with high rates of drug or alcohol abuse. People with enochlophobia find the movement and noise of crowds disorienting and stressful. They will find it impossible to join groups or be in the presence of a crowd without triggering intense anxiety symptoms.
  • Pain or agliophobia is also associated with drug and alcohol abuse. People with this phobia are terrified of feeling even the slightest amount of pain. Unfortunately, their fear of pain makes them more likely to believe that any pain signals are more intense and worrisome than they actually are. Fear of pain can increase their risk of turning to narcotics or other addictive painkillers to assuage their concerns.

What are the treatment options for phobias and co-occurring substance abuse?

It’s critical that a person who is abusing drugs or alcohol is also evaluated for an underlying mental health disorder. In patients with a phobia or anxiety disorder, those issues must be addressed and adequately treated along with their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Treating each problem in isolation is not the most effective. Instead, both of these disorders are fueling and worsening the symptoms of each. A person with a phobia who turns to drugs or alcohol to cope will benefit from talk therapy and possibly medication for their anxiety. But, treatment plans must be tailored to the individual patient. Medications won’t work for everyone, and talk therapy sessions need to address the individual patient’s unique needs.

In talk therapy, patients can find out what their triggers are for their phobias. A therapist will teach them healthy coping mechanisms for their fears, instead of turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. Depending on the severity of addiction, the patient may need to enter detox, and inpatient or outpatient rehab for several months to prevent a relapse.

Are you struggling with a phobia and addiction? The caring mental health and drug abuse counselors at Mission Harbor are here to help. Please contact Mission Harbor Behavioral Health today to explore your options for anxiety and addiction treatment.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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