Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an intense fear of being in a place or situation that can’t be escaped or where no help is available. A person who struggles with agoraphobia will often feel afraid of embarrassing themselves in public, and they are horrified of having a panic attack in a social setting. The fear can develop so intensely that the individual will avoid leaving their home, even when they need medical care.
Agoraphobia not only affects the person who suffers from the disorder, but it also affects their job, social life and interpersonal relationships. Agoraphobia treatment plans usually include both psychotherapy and medication. Treatment may take some time, but it can help a person heal from agoraphobia.
Medications are often used in combination with therapy for treatment of agoraphobia but are not used as a sole cure. Medications for agoraphobia can offer short-term relief but do not treat the underlying source of the disorder. If used alone, agoraphobia symptoms may return when the patient stops using the medication.
A physician may temporarily prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to help alleviate the physical symptoms of panic while the patient also attends therapy. Medication can assist individuals in managing symptoms while they receive treatment simultaneously.
Anti-anxiety medications are typically sedatives that a doctor may prescribe for temporary relief of anxiety symptoms. These medications are generally used only for relieving serious anxiety on a short-term basis. Anti-anxiety medications can be habit-forming, so they are not always the best choice for people who have had long-term problems with anxiety or problems with alcohol or drug abuse.
Certain antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to treat phobia or panic disorders such as agoraphobia. Prozac and Zoloft are two name brands of these types of medications. These SSRI medications may take weeks to begin relieving symptoms. Many patients try several different prescription drugs before finding one that works best for them. Other, more fast acting, types of antidepressants may also effectively treat agoraphobia.
SSRI medications are commonly used because they usually do not have addictive side effects.
When starting or ending a course of antidepressants, a person might experience uncomfortable physical side effects or even panic attack symptoms. For this reason, a doctor will likely increase the dosage gradually during treatment, and slowly decrease your dosage at the end of treatment.
Therapy Options for Agoraphobia Disorder
Psychotherapy is the most common treatment for agoraphobia. Therapy helps individuals substitute their anxious thoughts with healthier, practical thoughts. Enforcing new behaviors with healthy thought patterns reaffirms this new way of thinking. Psychotherapy involves talking with a therapist to set goals and obtain skills to help reduce anxiety symptoms that lead to the phobia.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders, including agoraphobia. Cognitive behavioral therapy is usually a short-term treatment that focuses on teaching the patient-specific skills to better tolerate anxiety, directly challenge your worries and gradually return to the activities they have avoided because of anxiety. Through this process, the patient’s symptoms should improve as they build on their initial success.
Many therapists will suggest group therapy or support groups for phobia therapy. These types of psychotherapy will allow the patient to be in an environment with other people who understand and relate to their experiences. Patients are often able to learn tips from each other and are also able to see how other people view their phobias.
Treatments for Agoraphobia Disorder with Co-Occurring Disorders
Managing agoraphobia without professional help can be challenging and distressing, potentially leading to co-occurring substance use. Individuals may attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol in attempts to alleviate physiological and emotional distress. It is very common for substance abuse and phobias to correspond with each other.
Co-occurring substance abuse and agoraphobia only worsen the symptoms of agoraphobia. There are numerous side effects associated with alcohol or drug use that could amplify physiological symptoms. The alteration of brain chemistry caused by the substances can make a person more defenseless to anxiety disorders. Drugs and alcohol can also negatively impact an individual’s physical health.
If the person tries to seek treatment for their agoraphobia while continuing to use drugs or alcohol, they may continue to experience severe anxiety symptoms due to their remaining disorder or from their drug use.
If you are or a loved one needs substance abuse treatment, The Recovery Village can help. Individuals who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring agoraphobia disorder symptoms can receive help from one of the facilities located in five states throughout the country. If you or a loved one struggles with drug addiction and a co-occurring mental illness like agoraphobia, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.