Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that creates a fear of being in places where you may feel trapped or scared. Depending upon the severity of their agoraphobia, people who have it may be unable to participate in social events, may not be able to be in certain public places — especially in crowds — or in severe cases, they may be unable to leave their home. When someone who has agoraphobia is exposed to a social situation that causes anxiety, they may have a panic attack. Having a panic attack can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, causing those with agoraphobia to avoid places or situations that trigger such panic attacks.

Often, people with agoraphobia will find themselves using alcohol to cope with their symptoms. Alcohol can temporarily relieve anxiety but will lead to increased anxiety and depression in the long-term.

Does Alcohol Use Lead to Agoraphobia?

It is unclear if using alcohol leads to agoraphobia and there are two opposing views on the subject. The more historical view has been that those who are prone to agoraphobia or other anxiety disorders use alcohol to self-treat these disorders, and when alcohol use is stopped, these disorders become more obvious.

The other view, which is supported by research, is that using alcohol over a prolonged period can lead to panic attacks and anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia. In reality, both views are likely true. Agoraphobia and alcoholism can both lead to the other.

Agoraphobia Symptoms

Agoraphobia consists of panic attacks that occur in public places. The symptoms that occur with panic attacks can be difficult to cope with, and someone who has severe agoraphobia symptoms may be unable to leave their home.

  • Symptoms of panic attacks that are experienced with agoraphobia include:

    • Fast heartbeat
    • Sweating
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
    • Feeling numb around the lips or in the hands
    • Chest tightness or pain
    • Feeling flushed or chilled
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Fear of dying
    • Fear of loss of control or going crazy

While the symptoms of a panic attack can be upsetting, they are not dangerous and are not likely to be harmful. Someone who is experiencing these symptoms for the first time should go to the hospital, as these symptoms can also be due to heart or lung problems, and these should be ruled out before they are assumed to be due to a panic attack.

Dangers of Self-Medicating with Alcohol

Self-medicating anxiety with alcohol may seem like a good idea because alcohol is a depressant that helps people relax and unwind. However, long-term alcohol use can lead to depression and increased anxiety. Using alcohol to treat agoraphobia symptoms can also lead to an addiction to alcohol. When alcohol is used to help cope with stress or anxiety, it can become a necessary part of coping with these symptoms and may become difficult to live without. Alcohol addiction can lead to several negative effects, including an increased risk of injury, an increased chance of brain damage, liver disease, or kidney disease and a decrease in lifespan of 24 to 28 years.

Does Alcohol Impact Agoraphobia Symptoms?

Alcohol may provide some temporary relief from agoraphobia symptoms. However, the long-term use of alcohol for agoraphobia is not ideal. Alcohol can lead to depression and hopelessness, worsening the symptoms of agoraphobia. Alcohol can also lead to sleep disruptions and decrease the quality of sleep, leading to the worsening of agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia can be treated with medications, and treatment can help to improve the quality of life for those who have agoraphobia. By using alcohol instead of seeking treatment, agoraphobia may get worse when it could be successfully treated, thereby prolonging avoidable symptoms.

Seeking Treatment for Agoraphobia & Alcoholism

Those who have agoraphobia and an alcohol use disorder need to seek specialized treatment that includes both agoraphobia treatment and treatment of alcoholism. If only one condition is treated at a time, the chance of successful treatment is much lower. Seeking professional help that includes treatment of both conditions simultaneously provides the best chance of successful recovery.