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Phobia-Related Disorders & Addiction | Symptoms, Risk Factors, & Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Published on May 6, 2021
Phobia-Related Disorders & Addiction | Dual Diagnosis

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes an intense, irrational fear of a place, situation, object, or person. 

About 18.8% of people with phobias and phobia-related disorders experience alcohol or drug addiction (also known as substance use disorder) at some point in their lives. These individuals require professional treatment that addresses both addiction and phobias.  

Types Of Phobias

There are three main types of phobias: agoraphobia, specific phobia, and social phobia

Agoraphobia 

Agoraphobia is a fear of places or situations that make one feel trapped or helpless. Many people with this condition fear taking public transportation, standing in lines, or attending crowded places. Some even fear leaving their homes. 

The condition often develops after someone has a panic attack in a certain place. Afraid of having another attack, the person then avoids that place or similar places. 

Learn more about Agoraphobia & Addiction

Specific Phobia

A specific phobia, also called a simple phobia, is a fear of something that poses little to no real danger. Common specific phobias include:

  • fear of heights (acrophobia)
  • fear of flying (aerophobia)
  • fear of spiders (arachnophobia)
  • fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia)

Social Phobia

Also known as social anxiety disorder, social phobia causes fear of social situations, especially situations where one feels they might be judged or embarrassed. 

Some people with this condition fear all social situations. Others only fear certain social situations, such as meeting new people, attending parties, or giving speeches. 

Other Phobia-Related Disorders

There are some phobia-related disorders that don’t fall under the above categories.

Selective mutism, for example, is an anxiety disorder that makes you physically unable to speak in certain situations. It’s sometimes described as a phobia of talking.

Many people incorrectly assume that a person with selective mutism is choosing not to speak, so they pressure them to do so. This pressure usually makes the person even more anxious. They may then avoid all situations where they might be pressured to speak. 

Similarly, separation anxiety disorder is sometimes described as a phobia of separation. People with this disorder often avoid leaving their loved ones because they’re afraid they’ll be abducted or injured. 

The condition often develops after someone moves away, loses a loved one, or experiences another life event that involves significant loss. 

In the past, many people thought that both selective mutism and separation anxiety disorder only affected children. However, they can affect people of all ages. 

The Link Between Phobias & Addiction

Most people with phobias experience significant distress. Along with anxiety, they may feel shame, embarrassment, or judgment. To cope with these difficult feelings, many people turn to alcohol or other drugs. 

Some people with phobias abuse illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine. Others abuse prescription drugs designed to treat anxiety, such as benzodiazepines

No matter the drug, drug abuse usually leads to addiction. Addiction is a serious disease that makes you feel unable to control your drug use. 

Symptoms Of Phobias & Addiction

The most common symptom of a phobia is avoidance of a feared place, situation, object, or person. If someone with a phobia can’t avoid what they fear, they’ll often feel an intense desire to flee the situation. 

They may also experience symptoms of a panic attack, such as:

  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shaking
  • sweating
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • numbness
  • chest pain
  • sense of impending doom or death

The most common symptoms of addiction include:

  • avoidance of family and friends
  • avoidance of responsibilities at work or school
  • mood swings
  • a decline in personal hygiene
  • sudden weight changes
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • tolerance (needing increasingly higher amounts of a drug to feel the desired effects)
  • physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or sweating, when not using the drug)

Phobia & Addiction Risk Factors

Common risk factors for both phobias and addiction include:

  • stress
  • trauma
  • having a family history of phobias or addiction
  • living with someone who has a phobia or addiction

You also face a higher risk of a phobia if you hear about a negative event involving a certain place, situation, object, or person. For example, someone who hears about a plane crash may develop a phobia of flying, especially if they hear about it as a child. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options For Phobias & Addiction

A phobia can worsen the symptoms of addiction, and addiction can worsen the symptoms of a phobia. That’s why you need to treat both conditions at once.

Luckily, many addiction treatment centers offer dual diagnosis programs. These programs treat addiction alongside co-occurring disorders, including phobias. 

When you enter a dual diagnosis program, a team of healthcare professionals will design your personalized treatment plan. 

Depending on your needs, the plan may include services such as:

  • medical detox, where you’ll receive 24/7 medical supervision as you wean off drugs
  • cognitive behavioral therapy, where a therapist can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage your phobia so you’re less likely to turn to drugs
  • exposure therapy, where a therapist can help you gradually face your fears so they cause less distress
  • family therapy, where you and your family members can learn how to best treat your phobia and addiction
  • support groups, where you can connect with other people recovering from addiction, phobias, and other mental health disorders

To learn more about treatment options for phobias and addiction, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist today. 

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.
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