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Overcoming Certain Phobias to Enter Rehab

Overcoming Certain Phobias to Enter Rehab

People with certain phobias may hesitate to seek addiction treatment, but the phobias and addiction can be treated together

The Mayo Clinic defines a phobia as “an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance.” Phobias are generally long lasting and can cause symptoms severe enough to interfere with normal daily functioning. Symptoms include feelings of panic and dread as well as physical reactions such as sweating, rapid heartbeat and difficulty breathing. Often people are aware that the fears are not based in an objective assessment of their true danger, but they feel unable to control their anxiety about them.

Types of Phobic Disorders

Phobic disorders are generally categorized as follows:

  • Specific phobias – A specific phobia is a targeted fear of a specific situation or object. Although specific phobias may develop to anything, common ones include those related to heights, insects or other animals, storms, blood and flying. People may experience more than one specific phobia. Often a specific phobia is triggered by a negative personal experience, but this is not always the case. Specific phobias may co-exist with other disorders, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Social phobia – Social phobia is an exaggerated fear of public ridicule or scrutiny in common social situations. People who suffer from social phobia are afraid of rejection and experience extreme self-consciousness. They may also fear offending others.
  • Agoraphobia – Agoraphobia is a fear of being in places where escape or retreat is thought to be difficult. This can include open spaces like parking lots, enclosed spaces like stores or subways, or anywhere there is a line or a crowd. Often agoraphobia develops after a panic attack, when people begin to consciously or unconsciously associate the panic with the sort of place where the attack occurred.

Phobias and Substance Abuse

Phobias are generally classified as a type of anxiety disorder, and like other anxiety disorders, they frequently co-exist with substance abuse and addiction. Although people may turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the symptoms of their phobias, the relief is generally short-lived, and substances tend to worsen the problem in the long run. Almost all psychoactive substances can cause or worsen anxiety, either as an intoxication or withdrawal symptom.

People who develop addiction along with a phobic disorder may hesitate to receive addiction treatment if they fear they will have to confront the item or situation that is the focus of their phobia. People with social phobia may dread the social interactions they anticipate. Others may fear spending time in a small meeting room.

Phobia Treatment

When addiction and mental health conditions like phobias co-exist, the best treatment outcomes are seen when the disorders are treated concurrently in an integrated manner, and preferably within the same treatment facility. A program that addresses co-occurring disorders will generally be sensitive to the phobias of their patients and will tailor treatment as needed so that both conditions can be addressed. There will be ongoing screening and assessment and treatment will be adapted as indicated.

Phobias may be treated with medications, psychotherapy or a combination of both. Medications include antidepressants and beta-blockers. Although anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines may sometimes be prescribed for people with phobic disorders, they should be used with caution and are generally contraindicated for people with addiction tendencies. Dependence on benzodiazepines can develop very rapidly.

Psychotherapy for phobic disorders includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. CBT involves bringing thoughts to consciousness and evaluating their validity and their effect on emotions and behaviors. Exposure therapy involves gradual exposure to fearful situations under controlled conditions so that responses can be changed. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that exposure can be real, simulated or visualized.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that self-management strategies and complementary health approaches may also be used to address phobias and other anxiety-based conditions. They note that it can be helpful for people to designate specific periods of time for worrying, which can free the mind for the rest of the day. They also note the possible effectiveness of exercise, yoga and relaxation techniques such as focused breathing. Some programs incorporate massage, music therapy, meditation and other anxiety and stress-relieving approaches as well.

Finding Integrated Treatment for Phobias and Addiction

If you or someone you love needs integrated treatment for addiction and a phobic disorder, we can help you find a program that meets your needs. Call our toll-free helpline, and let us answer your questions and help you identify your options. We can also check your insurance coverage for you if you wish at no cost or obligation. The helpline is available 24 hours a day; so there is never a wrong time to call. Why not call now, and begin your journey to freedom?