Treating Phobias and Drug Addiction
Simply put, patients with co-occurring disorders have more than one disorder affecting them at the same time. A phobia is just one type of disorder, whereas substance abuse is another. While phobias and drug addiction can disrupt a person’s life in similar ways, they each have their own causes, symptoms and treatment protocols. The co-existence, or comorbidity, of a phobia combined with a drug addiction can present difficulty along the path to treatment. That being said, diagnosing a phobia is generally easier to do than diagnoses of other, more complicated disorders. Comorbidity of disorders is tricky because it can be tough to discern which of the disorders are to blame for certain behaviors, thereby making them harder to treat. Phobias fall under the classification of anxiety disorders.
What Is Drug Addiction?
Drug addiction is defined by WebMD as a prolonged, often relapsing brain disease that leads to continued drug-seeking behavior, despite the negative consequences associated with that drug use. Substance abuse causes both physical and internal health problems and injuries over time. The risk of infectious diseases, pregnancy and STDs are heightened when abusing drugs. Likewise, your mental health suffers; depression and stress-related anxiety are much more common in drug abusers. The deterioration of friendships and other relationships usually follows suit as well.
What Is a Phobia?
The Ohio State University Wexler Medical Center defines a phobia as a robust, unfounded fear of something that, in actuality, holds little or no authentic danger. Some common phobias, as recognized by AARP are:
- Agoraphobia: a fear of public places
- Acrophobia: a fear of heights
- Claustrophobia: a fear of enclosed spaces
- Social phobia: a fear of social situations
- Arachnophobia: a fear of spiders
While one or more of these fears sound like they might apply to the average person, they must cause serious emotional upset and disruption to the patient’s life in order for a phobia diagnosis to be rendered. Generally, someone with a phobia will do all that they can to avoid exposure to the things they are fearful of, often going to extremes if they must. Per OSU Wexler Medical Center, if a person with a phobia cannot avoid their fears, one or more symptoms will occur, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Accelerated heartbeat
- A strong urge to flee the situation
- Fear and panic ensue
In the case of phobias, symptoms are often fairly straightforward and much the same from one patient to the next. This makes the treatment of the phobia alone simpler. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) touts that “more than one-half of all drug abusers are also battling mental illness.”
Where Do Phobias Come From?
The root causes of phobias are still unknown but they are sometimes, though not always, hereditary. Most phobias begin in childhood or adolescence but some phobias are actually caused directly by a drug addiction. For this reason, treating an addiction can sometimes help to resolve a phobia too. On the flipside, the majority of sufferers have phobias that led to their addiction. This makes it vital that the phobia be treated individually in an effort to eliminate some of the desire one has to use drugs to cope with the symptoms of their phobia. It is common for those with phobias to turn to drug use as a reprieve from the way their phobias make them feel. When disorders like these are left untreated, it gives way for them to grow. Therefore, the sooner treatment is sought, the better the outcome usually is.
Treating Phobias and Drug Abuse
In years gone by, mental illness was not always given the credence it deserved. Due to this, many with phobias and drug addiction were frowned upon and not given the appropriate care when mental illnesses like phobias were present because these disorders were considered to be separate from the person’s drug addiction. Ironically enough, a survey published back in November of 1988, titled The Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders in Patients with Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, ascertained that 78 percent of the 501 people sampled, all of whom were engaged in substance abuse, also had a lifetime psychiatric disorder. Fortunately, we now know a great deal about comorbid disorders like phobias and drug addiction.
There is help available, and treatment options vary from patient to patient. There is no one set course when treating something as personal as a phobia.
Upon admission to Futures, an initial screening is completed to ensure the proper diagnosis is given to every patient. Following the point of diagnosis, our inpatient treatment begins immediately.
At Futures, you will undergo dual diagnosis testing to verify how many disorders are at play. There are no laboratory tests when it comes to diagnosing a patient with a phobia. Instead, a comprehensive psychological evaluation is performed in order to determine whether the patient’s fears are phobic in nature.
Requirements for Diagnosis
The Mayo Clinic postulates the following requirements, necessary per the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for the diagnosis of a specific phobia:
- A strong anxiety or fear brought on by an item or situation
- An instantaneous anxiety reaction whenever exposed to the item or situation that one is fearful of
- Worry or fear that is not rational in comparison to the actual risk rendered by the item or situation
- Severe distress whenever one must be exposed to the feared item or situation, or extreme avoidance of it altogether
- Extreme distress or difficulties with social engagements, jobs or other departments of life because of the fear, worry and avoidance
- Ongoing avoidance and phobia that persists for — at minimum — six months
What Are the Treatment Options?
The best approach is to treat co-occurring disorders simultaneously. While you undergo our medically overseen drug detox program, you may be given appropriate medications, if needed, to ensure that you are as safe and comfortable as possible while going through drug withdrawal.
Many drugs don’t require medication management during the detox phase; however, addictions to certain substances, such as heroin and prescription painkillers, may mandate medicated assistance. Detox should always be done while under medical supervision.
NAMI suggests a variety of treatment options — all genres of behavior therapy — geared toward rehabilitating people with phobias, such as:
- Exposure therapy. This technique is somewhat as simple as it sounds. The patient is exposed to the very object or situation that they are fearful of. After repeated exposure, the patient becomes less fearful of the item or situation, and they become more inclined to handle encounters with it in the future. The successful end result is a patient who has become accustomed enough to the stimulus that they will not respond in the ways they once did. Sometimes, patients relapse and their phobia-based behaviors return, but reciprocal exposure therapy seems to address most of these instances.
- Systematic desensitization. This process utilizes the same concept that exposure therapy does while encouraging and promoting the patient’s relaxation when they are engaged in exposure. Eventually, the desired result is that the patient will become more lax when presented with the triggering item or situation instead of reacting fearfully or anxiously.
- Medications. Generally, drug therapy is not recommended in the treatment of phobias. This is primarily because behavior therapy has been shown to be a far more successful approach. Nonetheless, some patients are prescribed benzodiazepines when necessary to control anxiety that may surface when attempting to dig deeper into behavioral therapies like those listed above.
The First Step: Beating Phobias and Drug Addiction
No one is exempt from becoming a success story as someone who overcomes their disorders and goes on to live a fulfilling and stable life, free of addiction and irrational fears. Perhaps you’re the one that needs help, or maybe someone you care about is struggling with a comorbid diagnosis. Battling a co-occurring disorder isn’t something you can do alone, and you can’t save someone else from it on your own either. At Futures, the focus is on your life beyond your co-existing disorders. Here, you will find individualized treatment, in a relaxed, resort-like setting where you can be yourself. Our Palm Beach County facility is a different world compared to some rehabilitation centers you may have visited in the past. The services offered here will help you to start undoing the damage that drugs have done to your life. You can begin again, with a clear and healthy mind. There is another side to phobias and drug addiction. You don’t have to live in fear; paranoia can become a thing of the past when you take the first step toward your future and decide to accept help. Our supportive admissions counselors are standing by 24 hours a day to answer your questions and guide you in making the best decision of your life. Call now.