Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder that involves an irrational fear of small spaces with no mechanism of escape. The symptoms of claustrophobia can be highly intense, triggering various emotional and physical responses. Individuals with claustrophobia may avoid small spaces at all costs to evade emotional and psychological distress. This isolation can lead to further depression and anxiety, thus deteriorating a person’s quality of life. At this point, an individual may turn to drugs and alcohol to mitigate feelings of helplessness and despair.     

Drug Abuse as a Hindrance to Claustrophobia Treatment

Drug abuse acts as a hindrance to claustrophobia treatment, as the anxiety disorder is no longer the sole problem. Substance use enables individuals to self-medicate, thus masking underlying fears. Once substance abuse comes into play, people need to treat both substance abuse and anxiety simultaneously. Dual treatment takes sole focus off of the mental health component because an individual need to treat both disorders.  

Effects of Substance Abuse on Claustrophobia Symptoms

Drugs and alcohol are often utilized to reduce symptoms of panic, such as tension in the chest, difficulty breathing, shuddering and emotional disturbance. Substances may be abused to combat feelings of depression, hopelessness and loneliness. Substance abuse serves to modify brain chemistry further.

Co-occurring substance abuse may intensify symptoms of claustrophobia. Several side effects that associate with alcohol and drug use that can magnify physiological symptoms. Rebound anxiety is when anxiety symptoms intensify and are worse than they were in the first place during drug withdrawal. Also, alcohol and drug use modify brain chemistry by lowering mood-controlling neurotransmitters. This modification can make people prone to anxiety and mood disorders.  

Claustrophobia and Alcohol

The acute stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, can intensify when an individual struggle with severe anxiety. This response triggers physical reactions such as increased heartbeat, elevated breathing, higher body temperature, raised blood pressure and being hyper-aware. Alcohol is a depressant for the central nervous system, meaning that it decelerates the body’s acute stress response.

Alcohol is a temporary solution for anxiety, as it assists a person to rest and unwind. Alcohol is futile in managing claustrophobia directly. Withdrawal symptoms are a side effect of alcohol dependence, which includes anxiety. Thus, alcohol can strengthen the anxiety and physical symptoms of claustrophobia, making them worse than they were before. Claustrophobia and alcohol are commonly co-occurring and intensify the potential side effects of each other.

Alcohol is an evasive tactic that does not focus on any of the factors leading to anxiety. Also, alcohol does not directly address the symptoms of claustrophobia. Prolonged alcohol abuse leads to addiction and increased distress, further deteriorating an individual’s quality of life.  

Claustrophobia and Marijuana

Marijuana can precipitate several physical changes in the body. Marijuana can cause elevated pulse and heart rate, reduced blood pressure and lightheadedness. The most frequent undesired side effect of sporadic usage is anxiety, which can quickly build to panic. The physical responses of the body can worsen feelings of panic from claustrophobia.   

Claustrophobia and Stimulants

Stimulants excite the central nervous system and can prompt the acute stress response and generate a panic attack. The increased heartbeat, dizziness and palpitations are capable of triggering anxiety and panic, thus intensifying symptoms of claustrophobia.

Regular abuse of a stimulant, like Adderall, can make permanent changes in brain structures, change the way nerve cells communicate and alter emotional regulation. Adderall increases dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that communicate to areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation.

Adderall causes an alteration in the chemical configuration of the brain, because the brain may stop producing as much of a neurotransmitter on its own. When Adderall vacates the bloodstream, neurotransmitter levels will fall, increasing symptoms of anxiety and panic. Anxiety and panic are characteristic of Adderall withdrawal, occurring once an individual is dependent.

The top six most commonly abused stimulants include:

Statistics on Claustrophobia and Drug Abuse

In order to find an effective treatment for claustrophobia, research has been conducted and some studies have found that:

  • People with a specific phobia are three to four times as likely to be afflicted by drug addiction and dependence.
  • Up to five percent of the population in the United States suffers from some form of claustrophobia.  
  • About one-third of individuals that possess an anxiety disorder struggle with alcohol addiction.

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Claustrophobia

Common side effects of drug abuse include anxiety and panic. When an individual becomes dependent on drug use, they run the added risk of anxiety as a side effect. Chemicals in substances, such as cocaine, marijuana and alcohol can cause alterations to how the brain functions, resulting in anxiety. These symptoms are present while an individual is misusing drugs but can also remain for a period of time after the person stops using the drug. A difficult cycle to break begins, as the elevated symptoms of anxiety and panic prompt individuals to abuse drugs again as a type of self-medicating treatment.  

Claustrophobia and co-occurring substance abuse have a cyclical relationship in that the distress of claustrophobia can prompt someone to start misusing drugs and alcohol. In turn, the side effects and withdrawal symptoms of drug use can also intensify anxiety and panic, developing into claustrophobia. Regardless of how the co-occurring diagnosis develops, treatment options should address both disorders simultaneously.

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with a substance use and co-occurring disorder like claustrophobia, there are different treatment options that can suit your specific needs. The Recovery Village has a staff of trained professionals that offers a continuum of care for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which program could work for you.