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Phobias and Risk of Substance Abuse

A phobia is known as an unreasonable, continuing fear of a situation that, for you, is frightening and can affect how you think. Phobias come in many different shades. Some people are afraid of heights, known as acrophobia, while others suffer from ophidiophobia, or the fear of snakes. There is even a phobia of phobias (phobophobia). For those who suffer from phobias, the fear that accompanies them is quite real and can be all-encompassing.

Connection Between Phobias and Substance Abuse

phobias and substance abusePhobias are connected with one’s anxiety and can become quite serious when the sufferer turns to substances such as alcohol and drugs to ease their fears. Experts from the University of Manitoba –located in Winnipeg, Canada – wrote in the Archives of General Psychiatry, “Self-medication of anxiety symptoms with alcohol, other drugs or both has been a plausible mechanism for the co-occurrence of anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.”

Alcohol and recreational drugs seem to bring about an anti-anxiety effect to those with phobias. The user may feel a heightened sense of confidence while under the influence. Joined with the placebo effect and the result in the user can be very powerful, eventually leading to a substance abuse problem. Specific phobias are very rarely linked with substance abuse. Comorbidity is the name given when a mental disorder such as the anxiety brought on by phobias is combined with a substance abuse problem.

How Phobias and Substance Abuse Relate to Women

womanSubstance abuse is related to both men and women; however it occurs in very different manners in each gender. Women will generally develop their phobia prior to an addiction. In addition, the biologic and psychosocial differences between men and women affect how the drugs or alcohol react in the body. Women are more likely to experience anxiety, fear, depression, eating disorders and even personality disorders than men are. Due to the increased frequency of these conditions, women may be more likely to couple the issues with drinking or drug use.

A study featured in the Psychiatric Times explored gender differences at the onset of a major depression episode and alcohol dependence. The data revealed that women with major depression were more than seven times as likely as women without major depression to have alcohol dependence at a two-year follow-up point. The study went on to state, “…a relationship between trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders also may be particularly important for women.” Events that occur early in a woman’s life, such as sexual abuse, heighten the woman’s risk of substance abuse later on in life. The same is true for women who have been exposed to or involved in violent situations.

How Phobias and Substance Abuse Are Linked

Phobias and substance abuse are linked in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Drug abuse can worsen symptoms of another mental illness. The increased risk of psychosis in vulnerable marijuana users suggests this possibility.
  • A mental disorder can lead to drug abuse, possibly as a means of “self-medication.” Women dealing with anxiety, depression or certain phobias may turn to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to provide temporary relief.
  • A family history of anxiety or substance abuse can worsen the problem. Genetic factors may make a person susceptible to both addiction and other mental disorders.
  • Environmental triggers play a role. Stress, trauma (such as physical or sexual abuse), and early exposure to drugs are common environmental factors.
  • Chemical reactions in the brain can be affected. Mental responses to reward and stress are affected by drug abuse.
  • Substance abuse and mental illnesses usually occur at an early age.

Diagnosing Phobias and Substance Abuse

diagnosisOnce it is determined that you have a mental disorder related to a phobia or anxiety, and that you are struggling with substance abuse, it is important to seek out help for both problems. Some doctors will just treat one area, such as the phobia, while ignoring the substance abuse. They do this because of the belief that one problem is causing the other. Therefore, by treating one issue, you will also fix the other problem. This simply is not the case. While the two are certainly connected, each condition must be treated concurrently in order for real healing to begin. Ignoring either your anxiety or your substance abuse will eventually bring you back to where you are at the onset of treatment.

There are numerous behavioral therapies that have been quite effective in treating comorbid conditions. Each of these thearpies can be personalized for you according to your age, the specific drug abused, and other factors such as the fear you are dealing with. Of course, there are several effective medications for treating opioid, alcohol, and nicotine addiction and for alleviating the symptoms of various mental disorders; however, most of these haven’t been studied specifically with dual diagnosis patients in mind.

Treatment for Women

Here at The Orchid, we specialize in treatment for women. We firmly believe that women encounter a unique set of circumstances as they recover from mental health issues like phobias and substance abuse issues. In our one-of-a-kind women’s recovery center, women feel safe and able to address their fears head on – with the empathetic support of female staff members and fellow patients. In addition to traditional therapies, such as individual and group counseling, we also offer various innovative, progressive therapies, such as art therapy, psychodrama treatment, and family therapy. The 12-step group support model is also key to our program.

For more information on our offerings here at The Orchid, call us today. We’d love to help you take the first step on a journey to lifelong recovery – to a destination that is free of the bounds of phobias and substance abuse. Call now.

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