Learn About Phobias and Their Role in Drug and Alcohol Addiction
Fear is a natural, healthy response to stress. In fact, the feeling of anxiety is one of our body’s natural defense mechanism. The experience of fear helps individuals to recognize and avoid dangerous situations. For many people, however, fear is as much a stumbling block as it is an advantage.
A phobia is an overwhelming fear of a specific object or situation that exceeds the actual risk. For those individuals dealing with a phobia, the experience of fear is less of a warning system and more of an oppressive reality.
It’s also common for phobias to co-occur with other mental illnesses, such as substance use disorder. As a result, the recovery process for a phobia and addiction features plenty of opportunities for overlap.
Types of Phobias
Phobias are generally divided into one of three broad categories: specific phobias, social phobias, and agoraphobia. These categories assist in helping medical professionals, as well as patients themselves, understand the scope of the individual’s mental illness and possibly identify the source.
Additional details about each phobia category are as follows:
Simple or specific phobias are the most common. They generally center on an object or situation that would normally be considered harmless. Examples range from a persistent, overwhelming fear of animals like snakes and dogs to extreme aversion to everyday activities such as driving a car.
Common simple phobias include an irregular aversion to:
- Surgical procedures
- Dental work
- Elevators and other confined spaces
Social phobia is characterized by an intense fear of being humiliated by others in social settings. This phobia is usually born out of deep-seated feelings of inferiority or insecurity. Those struggling with a social phobia may go to great lengths to avoid what they perceive to be unsafe social situations. This can lead to individuals ending relationships, dropping out of school and losing their jobs.
Agoraphobia can refer to intense anxiety about any situation that the individual perceives to be unsafe or difficult to escape. Examples include being in a crowded elevator or being outside in a wide-open, highly visible space. People with agoraphobia may suffer panic attacks if forced into these uncomfortable settings, and may then begin to avoid leaving home out of fear of subsequent panic attacks.
All phobias, regardless of type, display many similar symptoms. People with phobias often describe an immediate feeling of fear or panic when exposed to the source of their anxiety. These individuals are aware that their fears are irrational, but also feel powerless to control them.
Those struggling with a phobia will make a consistent effort to avoid encountering the source of their anxiety, even if it means isolating themselves from friends and family. This isolation, paired with the exhausting physical symptoms of their phobia, can significantly decrease their quality of life.
Common physical symptoms of a phobia include:
- Elevated heart rate
- Overwhelming feeling of distress
- Inability to focus
Phobia Risk Factors
The medical community is divided on the exact causes behind an individual developing a phobia. However, numerous factors have been identified that appear to increase an individual’s risk of being afflicted with a phobia. Those who represent multiple risk factors are even more likely to develop the disorder.
The following risk factors are commonly associated with individuals struggling with a phobia:
- Age: Phobias commonly manifest themselves in childhood, typically before age 10. However, individuals have been known to develop phobias later in life. Likewise, not all childhood fears develop into phobias.
- Traumatic experiences: An intensely negative experience, often related to personal trauma, can result in an individual developing a new phobia. In some cases, learning about a traumatic experience through a close friend or even via the news can cause an individual to manifest a related phobia.
- Genetics: Individuals with relatives who currently struggle with a phobia are considerably more likely to develop a phobia in their own lives.
- Personality: To a certain extent, one’s vulnerability to phobias is dependent on his or her own temperament. Typically, those who are timid and withdrawn are more likely to develop a phobia than those who regularly interact with other people.
Phobias and Addiction Treatment
Several studies have demonstrated that it is not uncommon for those struggling with a phobia to turn to substance abuse as a form of self-medication. Unfortunately, this can create a vicious cycle of fear and substance abuse, because self-medication only exacerbates the symptoms of anxiety.
Eventually, the individual may no longer feel capable of dealing with the phobia without his or her substance of choice. In cases like these, specialized phobia and addiction treatment are necessary to help individuals escape the downward spiral of substance abuse.
At The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village, we understand that treating an individual’s mental illness and substance abuse issues separately can lead to a higher rate of relapse. That’s why we focus on providing an individualized, comprehensive treatment plan for every patient.
Our board-certified staff of medical professionals will help patients develop a dual diagnosis treatment plan that addresses the phobia along with the addiction. Contact us our admissions counselors anytime at (866) 295-6003 to schedule an evaluation and to learn a healthier approach to managing a phobia without the need for substances.