Agoraphobia and Addiction Treatment

People with agoraphobia experience intense fear when they’re asked to endure a situation in which they feel there’s no quick route of escape. These people are worried that they’ll experience a panic attack in front of an entire room of witnesses, and the fear of humiliation may keep them away from interacting with anyone at all. The disease can be isolating, but according to an article in JAMA, about 11.3 percent of the population has agoraphobia at least once during the lifespan. Unfortunately, people with this condition don’t know that there are others who can understand and who can help, and they may turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to get relief from the pain they feel deep inside.

Panic in Public

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that manifests in an extreme fear of places or situations that may cause you to feel panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. While many assume that people with agoraphobia are scared of all spaces outside their own homes, the condition may manifest in a variety of ways and with varying degrees of anxiety pertaining to individual situations. While some fear open spaces, others are afraid of enclosed spaces. Some are fine driving in a car, but would go out of their way to avoid taking the bus or a train. Other common sources of anxiety include dense crowds and standing in line. In extreme cases, your fears may be so numerous and overwhelming that you are unable to leave your own home.

To cope with their anxiety, many people with agoraphobia feel that they must bring a companion with them to give them a sense of safety then venturing into public spaces. This can severely limit your ability to function and create an unhealthy dynamic with your loved ones.

For many, agoraphobia develops after experiencing at least one panic attack in a public place in the past, and they will typically then avoid that place in the future. However, the fear may grow to become more generalized until they avoid any situation that may provoke another panic attack.

Symptoms of Agoraphobia

The symptoms of agoraphobia involve both specific fears and the anxious reactions experienced by people with this condition. Symptoms include:

  • Fear of crowded or enclosed places
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of spaces that you cannot easily leave, such as an airplane or elevator
  • A profound sense of helplessness
  • Dependence on others to cope with distress

If you are in situations in which you are uncomfortable, you may experience panic attacks that cause you to have trouble breathing, feel shaky, become nauseated, feel lightheaded, and make your heart race. In severe cases, simply the prospect of being in certain situations can trigger a panic attack.

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Agoraphobia and Addiction

The relationship between drug addiction and agoraphobia is complex, and may develop in several ways. Some turn to alcohol or illicit drugs to cope with distressing symptoms in an attempt to overcome the condition, increase confidence, and temporarily regain the ability to function in a normal way. In other cases, you may become addicted to the medications prescribed to help you handle your anxiety and prevent panic, such as benzodiazepines. Some people also develop agoraphobia as the result of drug use itself, particularly if you have had a negative experience on drugs that caused you to panic in public. As a result, you may turn to drugs once more to attempt to alleviate your anxiety.

Regardless of the exact trajectory of your agoraphobia and drug abuse, once the cycle of addiction starts, it can be very difficult to break free. This is particularly true if you are self-medicating to alleviate disturbing symptoms, as drugs and alcohol can actually increase your anxiety and make panic more likely.

Long-Term Damage

Addictive drugs can leave their mark on the mind, and while they might provide momentary relief, they can become a crutch the person needs in order to simply leave the house. Without drugs, the person might not feel capable of handling the situation, and as the addiction deepens, the drugs might not even be enough. The brain tends to recalibrate after long periods of exposure to drugs, meaning that people must take higher and higher doses to feel the same effect. During the addictive phase, people with agoraphobia can have breakthrough episodes of anxiety, even though they’re taking drugs.

The chemical changes addictions can cause can also lead to other mental health problems. For example, in a study in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, researchers found that the majority of people with anxiety disorders felt their substance abuse helped them to cope with their conditions, but these people also had mental health problems like depression that could be directly blamed on the substance use. By using drugs, people could be making their mental health situation so much worse.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Relieving the pain of agoraphobia requires dedicated, professional treatment by compassionate clinicians who understand the complex nature of the illness. When agoraphobia is accompanied by co-occurring substance addiction, dual diagnosis treatment that addresses both conditions simultaneously offers you the best path to healing.

Once agoraphobia and drug use become intertwined, truly effective treatment must focus on them each individually, and as a team, to understand how each informs the other, giving you the ability to recover from all sources of suffering. Dual diagnosis treatment is designed to address the full scope of your emotional and behavioral concerns to restore function in healthy, positive ways and empower you to make true change. The most effective treatment includes a variety of modalities to support you mind, body, and spirit, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

Pharmacological therapies may also be used as necessary for your individual situation. It is imperative that any pharmacological treatment is planned and administered by a psychiatrist who specializes in dual diagnosis treatment and understands the unique concerns co-occurring disorders present.

Because people with agoraphobia may be more susceptible to alcohol or benzodiazepine addiction, it is also essential that your treatment provider has the resources to safely guide you through the withdrawal process using the most modern, evidence-based medical treatments available. Not only does this allow you to withdraw safely, it also makes the detox process as comfortable as possible, giving you a positive start to your healing journey.

Unfortunately, people struggling with agoraphobia often feel great apprehension about coming to treatment, particularly in severe cases. After all, you are in a new, unfamiliar environment, working in groups, and speaking with strangers. To optimize your chances of success, it is best to select a program that makes you feel welcome from the very first point of contact. If possible, visit the facility prior to admission and see for yourself what the program is like. The clinicians should not only have the training necessarily to give you the help you need, they should also have the openness, empathy, and warmth you need to feel safe enough to engage in the therapeutic process.

If your drug addiction or agoraphobia has disrupted your relationships with your loved ones, you may also want to seek out a treatment facility with dedicated family programs to give you the structure and support you need to rebuild your vital social network. This programming can be instrumental in helping your family heal together and lay the foundation for a brighter, more stable future both for you individually and for your family as a whole.

If you would like more information about drug addiction and agoraphobia, or have any questions about dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us at any time. We are always available to offer support and guidance to help you find the help you need to begin your journey of healing and transformation.