Dual Diagnosis: Addiction And Phobias

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 26, 2021

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder with which a person has an irrational and uncontrollable fear over something very specific. This disorder can be very scary and debilitating, and those who suffer from it are also prone to depression and substance abuse.

Co-Occurring Phobia And Addiction Disorders

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by a persistent and unrealistic fear of a certain object, animal, situation, person, activity, or environment.

Sometimes the specific thing which a person fears can be avoided successfully (fear of fish, fear of heights) and they can get by without experiencing much anxiety.

Other fears (fear of sleep, fear of night) are much more difficult to avoid and can cause the sufferer a great deal of anxiety on a sometimes daily basis.

Millions of Americans are currently suffering from a phobia and many of them will turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating.

Read more about co-occurring anxiety and addiction disorders

What Are Phobias?

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that affected an estimated 9.1% of American adults in the past year, while 12.5% of adults report experiencing a phobia at some point in their life.

Some phobias are more common than others, though it is not possible to list out all phobias as the list would be virtually infinite.

When you consider that everything around you is a possible trigger for someone with a phobia, it is easy to understand why this form of mental illness can be so hard to live with.

Examples Of Phobias That Co-Occur With Addiction

Phobias come in all shapes and sizes and are as different as the people who suffer from them.

Addiction And Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is a fear of unknown situations as well as a fear of leaving a comfortable situation.

Someone with this phobia might even have trouble leaving their home at all and may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Read more about dual diagnosis agoraphobia and addiction

Addiction And Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is a fear of confined spaces. Someone with this phobia may, for the most part, be able to avoid their triggers but may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the anxiety when they cannot.

Read more about dual diagnosis claustrophobia and addiction

Symptoms Of Phobias

The number of actual potential phobias is large and impossible to know, but the physical and emotional reactions that they inspire will be similar across the board.

While most people with a phobia will attempt to avoid their trigger altogether, those who come face-to-face with theirs will oftentimes experience panic attacks as a result.

Signs of phobia include:

  • irrational fear of a specific object or situation
  • avoidance of a specific object or situation
  • strong desire to get away from a specific object or situation

Symptoms of phobia include:

  • feelings of fear or terror
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling or shaking
  • excessive sweating
  • chills
  • racing thoughts
  • confusion
  • dizziness

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Someone with a phobia may also experience extreme anxiety in between episodes.

They are constantly living in fear of experiencing their trigger and the uncertainty of not knowing when it will happen next.

Signs Of An Alcohol Or Drug Addiction

Given how debilitating a phobia can be, it should come as no surprise that many of those who suffer from it find themselves turning to drugs or alcohol as a means of numbing their fears and anxiety.

Signs and symptoms of addiction include:

  • secretiveness or lying about drugs
  • visible drug paraphernalia
  • extreme mood changes
  • weight loss or gain
  • sleeping more than usual or at odd times
  • changes in social group
  • financial instability
  • preoccupation with drugs or alcohol

The signs of an individual’s addiction will vary from person to person with the severity of their addiction and with the type of substance that they are addicted to.

What Causes Co-Occurring Addiction And Phobia?

The causes for a person’s co-occurring addiction and phobia will vary greatly, especially because the types of phobias and the reasons that led to them will be vast and infinite. There are, however, some shared risk factors to keep in mind.

Shared risk factors for addiction and phobia include:

  • family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • recent trauma
  • genetics
  • high stress
  • personality type
  • presence of other mental health disorders

It is most common to develop a phobia between the ages of 15 and 20, though some do stem from childhood.

Many people, with proper treatment, are able to overcome their phobias. Others, unfortunately, may find themselves turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism until they reach the point of addiction.

How Common Is Co-Occurring Addiction And Phobia?

A phobia most often starts in the late teenage years and affects both men and women equally.

Among people with phobias, it has been found that about 7% have also abused alcohol and that about 9% have also abused drugs.

Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug reported among those with a phobia.

While not always the case, it is highly common that the phobia precedes the addiction to alcohol or drugs and that the person is using these substances as a form of numbing their discomfort.

How Is Co-Occurring Addiction And Phobia Diagnosed?

A phobia can be a serious disorder that affects a person’s work, school, and home life. Because of this, it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Phobias can share symptoms with other mental disorders, such as panic disorder.

Diagnosis of both a phobia and substance addiction will require a visit with your clinician and potentially a couple of specialists.

Methods for diagnosing addiction and phobia include:

  • a complete physical examination
  • a complete psychological evaluation
  • blood tests to look for presence of any other conditions
  • any other testing the clinician feels necessary given the patient’s symptoms (EKG, MRI, etc)

How Is Co-Occurring Addiction And Phobia Treated?

It is important to treat someone who has both a phobia and a substance addiction for both issues simultaneously.

Dual diagnosis treatment has been found to be a successful way of treating both phobias and substance addiction at the same time and preventing relapse.

Dual diagnosis treatment for addiction and phobia may include:

  • medically supervised detox
  • dual diagnosis group therapy
  • medication
  • exposure therapy
  • individual cognitive behavioral therapy
  • workshops for mindfulness and stress reduction

Understanding a person’s phobia will help guide their treatment for substance abuse and vice versa.

Finding Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Addiction And Phobia

If you or a loved one is currently suffering from both a phobia and a substance addiction at the same time, give our helpline a call to find a dual diagnosis treatment offering in your area.

Dual diagnosis treatment is offered in these settings:

  • inpatient treatment centers
  • residential rehab centers
  • outpatient rehab centers
  • individual treatment providers

Your path to recovery is possible and just a phone call away.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 26, 2021
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