Fear is a common part of everyday life. Often, fear can be really useful. A surge of energy and a boost of perception caused by fear could help you to scramble out of the path of an oncoming car, or it could help you to snatch your child’s fingers away from a hot burner. Fear is a vital part of staying alive and unharmed.
Signals of fear are not always benign, however. Sometimes, fear signals fire due to situations that aren’t dangerous, interesting, or noteworthy in any way. Sometimes, people feel fear simply because their brain cells aren’t working as they should.
For example, people with phobias feel a sensation of fear due to objects or situations that others can handle with ease. When people encounter the things that cause them fear, their bodies erupt with classic signs of tension and flight. Some people feel these emotions when they even think about spending time in the presence of the thing that causes fear.
Phobias That Can Lead to Substance Abuse:
- Public speaking (glossophobia)
- Public interactions (social phobia)
- Flying (aviophobia)
- Crowds (enochlophobia)
- Being alone (monophobia)
- Pain (agliophobia)
Phobias like this, along with other anxiety disorders, are closely tied to the development of substance abuse problems. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that people with anxiety disorders are 2-3 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem at some point in life, when compared to the general population.
People might have very individual reasons for leaning on substances of abuse, but an overview in the Psychiatric Times suggests that many people with anxiety use substances as coping mechanisms. They cannot handle the feelings that crowd their bodies on a regular basis, so they lean on substances to numb the mind and bring relief. Unfortunately, substances of abuse are closely tied to the development of addictions. When addictions and phobias meet, they can strengthen one another. The anxiety can lead to substance use, and the substance use can lead to anxiety. It is a difficult situation to control, without the help of an expert team.
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Phobias Tied Substance Abuse
While a phobia to almost anything could cause this type of anxiety and addiction, there are six specific phobias that have been closely tied to the development of an addiction. They include:
- Public speaking (glossophobia): People with this phobia are concerned about standing up in front of a crowd of people and somehow botching the event. They may worry about stuttering, tripping, sweating, forgetting what to say, or unleashing some kind of bodily noise. In order to get through the event, people like this might drink a great deal of alcohol or take sedating drugs. Unfortunately, those substances tend to make public speaking harder, not easier, and that tends to strengthen the phobia.
- Public interactions (social phobia): Parties and picnics could trigger a sense of panic for people with this phobia. But even small social interactions, such as working with a clerk in a checkout line, could seem terrifying and overwhelming. About 7 percent of the population have this phobia, according to the Social Anxiety Association. Many people with this phobia use alcohol in social situations, hoping to soothe rattled nerves and make the event easier to tolerate. But alcohol tends to make people do the things they are worried about doing (stumbling, yelling, disclosing too much). After an alcohol-laden social interaction that goes wrong, people might be all the more convinced that social interactions are dangerous.
- Flying (aviophobia): Many people grow tense and worried when the airplanes they are riding hit rough weather, but people with this phobia grow concerned about the safety of even the smoothest of flights. They may find takeoff and touchdown intolerable, and they may spend the middle of the flight clutching the armrests and wailing for help. Some people use illicit drugs before they come to the airport, just to make the process a little smoother. But as the website Consumerist points out, most American airlines offer some kind of alcohol, although most charge for it. People with this phobia may grow quite drunk on the flight in an attempt to keep worries under control.
- Crowds (enochlophobia): A large group of people is loud, constantly moving, and a little disorienting. Most people feel a little worried in a large group of people, especially if they have been reading up on things like terrorism or theft. People with this crowd phobia take that anxiety to a new level. They may be physically incapable of joining any kind of crowd. They may only feel comfortable if they have a great deal of space all the way around them. Again, substances might seem to help, as they can be sedating.
- Being alone (monophobia): People with this phobia grow concerned and even highly anxious when they do not have another person nearby to talk with or hear. These people may spend quite a bit of time in bars and casinos, as both of these facilities stay open late and are typically full of people. To kill time in these places, people may drink and/or gamble, and that could lead to an addiction.
- Pain (agliophobia): People with this phobia are concerned about feeling even the smallest twinge of pain. Some are certain that signals of pain point to a life-ending problem like cancer or tissue death. Others simply cannot handle the body’s pain signaling mechanism at all, regardless of what the pain might mean. Unfortunately, according to a study by researchers at Stanford, people who fear pain are more likely to feel it. That means people with this phobia may live with a great deal of pain, around the clock. They may develop addictions to painkillers in a mistaken effort to find relief.
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Finding Phobia Relief
Clearly, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs is not a clever way to handle a phobia. The substances of abuse tend to make the phobia seem even more powerful and accurate, and that could make true healing very difficult.
Thankfully, people with phobias do not need to lean on techniques that do not work. There are a variety of treatment options for phobias that have been proven to deliver a great deal of relief and release, and they are appropriate for anyone who is living with a phobia.
According to Mental Health America, therapists sometimes use exposure therapy to help people with phobias. Here, the therapist provides instructions people can follow when they begin to feel a little anxious. Deep breathing, meditation, or visualization might all be tricks and tips people can use to quell a rising sense of fear and gain control. When people with phobias have those skills mastered, the therapist provides a slow introduction to the thing that causes fear. Photos, videos, or books about the target of the fear might be a reasonable first step. Once these triggers do not cause fear, the therapist might ask the person to view the thing from a distance. When that is not alarming, the person might be asked to actually interact with the target of the fear.
When an addiction complicates the phobia, the therapist might also provide instructions on avoiding relapse triggers and handling urges to use. Medications and support group work might also play a role due to addiction issues.
With a robust program like this, people with phobias, even if they are complicated by addictions, can get better. The key is to get started. The longer the phobia stays in place, the stronger it might grow. And the more likely it becomes that the phobia is complicated by addiction. The sooner people act and get help, the better the treatment outcome will be.