Agoraphobia and Addiction
Everyone struggles with anxiety from time-to-time. This can happen due to the anticipation of a specific event or situation, but many people are able to find a way through it.
Having these feelings about stressful situations is common, but for some people, it can be incredibly disruptive. The experience of fear and anxiety about something can be so crippling that even the thought of being in a difficult situation that is not easily escapable can be paralyzing. While there are a number of anxiety disorders and phobias that may fit this description, one of the most disruptive forms of this is agoraphobia.
What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is often stereotyped as an anxiety disorder where a person is afraid to leave their home, but the disorder is much more complicated than that.
It is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to avoid situations or places that can make them feel trapped, embarrassed, and helpless. It often develops after experiencing an intense panic attack. Fear of having another panic attack triggered by a similar experience causes the person to avoid the situation so that it will not happen again.
The common misconception that agoraphobia is a disorder in which a person is afraid to leave their home is perpetuated because many people with it have a hard time feeling safe in public places, especially where there are crowds. Agoraphobia is generally experienced with symptoms of a panic attack. The dread of entering a specific situation can trigger these symptoms even before being in them. This is what makes even the thought of leaving home so difficult, causing some to choose to stay inside their homes for most of the day rather than face that experience. While agoraphobia is relatively rare compared to other types of anxiety disorders, about 40 percent of those with it are described as having “severe” cases. Even if the person recognizes their fears are irrational, they may feel powerless to change anything about the situation.
Symptoms of Agoraphobia
Symptoms of agoraphobia often overlap with other types of anxiety disorders. In general, symptoms often present as:
- Fear of leaving their home for extended periods of time
- Fear of being alone in social settings
- Fear of being in specific places that are difficult to escape (such as being in a car or an elevator)
- Fear of losing control in a public setting
- Experience of anxiety or agitation
- Feelings of detachment from others
Agoraphobia, Anxiety, and Panic Attacks
Agoraphobia is often accompanied by panic attacks. Panic attacks can range in severity and are characterized by a number of physical symptoms that may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heartbeat
- Hot flashes
- Tingling sensations
While the exact cause of its development is not known, there are risk factors that may increase the likelihood of its development. These include:
- Having another type of anxiety disorder
- Family history of agoraphobia
- Substance abuse
- Experience of abuse
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Agoraphobia and Addiction
As an anxiety disorder, agoraphobia can leave a person struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings that make even simple tasks feel insurmountable.
In order to overcome this, some people may choose to use drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms. “Self-medicating” for symptoms of agoraphobia may provide temporary relief, but ultimately, can worsen the condition overall. The desire to escape these feelings can cause a person to continue using substances until a dependency or addiction develops.
The risk of developing a substance abuse disorder is higher in those with a mental health disorder such as agoraphobia. In some cases, mental health disorders may develop as a result of substance abuse. Regardless of the order in which they present themselves, this coexistence is called a “dual diagnosis” and often exacerbates symptoms of both the addiction and the mental health disorder.
If substance abuse worsens, dual-diagnosis treatment designed to address both the agoraphobia and substance use simultaneously is often the best course of action.
With co-occurring disorders, it is important to treat both conditions at the same time. Treating one without the other can often lead to worsened symptoms, relapse, and other dangerous outcomes. A holistic approach to treatment is the most effective method of addressing both disorders simultaneously. A combination of therapy, medication (if needed), and lifestyle changes can help support a person in their journey to sobriety.
For agoraphobia specifically, some effective lifestyle changes and methods of treatment include:
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Incorporating practices such as meditation or breathing exercises to counteract the onset of anxiety symptoms
- Therapy which may include psychotherapy,
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or exposure therapy
- Medications to relieve symptoms of panic attacks or anxiety
Much like other mental health disorders, there is not a cure for agoraphobia. Instead, treatment is focused on helping a person recognize symptoms and learning how to cope with them so that they do not become overwhelming. Agoraphobia can be incredibly debilitating because of its ability to hinder relationships and everyday activities, but there are ways to manage symptoms so that it does not hurt a person’s overall quality of life.
If you or a loved one are suffering from trauma and/or addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.