Many people with claustrophobia go their entire lives without formal diagnosis or treatment. These individuals may try to manage their phobia by avoiding triggers and situations that prompt anxiety and panic, but it also causes them to miss out on important moments. Seeking help from a professional counselor, general practitioner or psychiatrist can help someone who has claustrophobia.
The treatment of phobias is dependent on psychological methods aiming to alter cognition and behavior. The most common treatment for claustrophobia is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is used to assist individuals in defeating and coping with triggers and fears. An individual with claustrophobia is generally treated on an outpatient basis but can be treated inpatient if the phobia is especially severe.
Medications Used for Treating Claustrophobia
Psychotropic medications are often used in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat claustrophobia but are not representative of a cure themselves. Medication can offer short-term relief but does not treat the underlying origin of the disorder. If utilized alone, when someone stops using the medication, claustrophobia symptoms may return.
A psychiatrist or physician may temporarily prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiolytic medications to help alleviate the physical symptoms of panic. Medication can assist individuals in managing compulsive, physiological symptoms while seeking treatment simultaneously.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants can be beneficial when panic is relentless and unbearable. Antidepressants are regularly used to treat anxiety and phobia, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used most frequently. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that manages mood. The purpose of SSRIs is to work to make serotonin more readily available to the brain, which can work to reduce anxiety. Medications like Zoloft, Paxil and Lexapro are commonly used SSRIs and effective for treating symptoms of claustrophobia.
- Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications reduce the physiological symptoms that come with anxiety. Benzodiazepine medications treat less severe episodes of anxiety and can give relief quickly. However, benzodiazepine medications have an addictive quality and need monitoring. Buspirone is another anti-anxiolytic medication that is not fast-acting but has less potential for dependence.
Therapy Options for Claustrophobia
Psychotherapy is the most common treatment type for claustrophobia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) is an effective form of treatment that seeks to isolate thoughts that come with the fear response. In turn, therapy helps individuals replace these thoughts with healthier, practical thoughts. Enforcing new behaviors with healthy thought patterns seek to reaffirm this new way of thinking.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment modality that has been somewhat effective for treating phobias associated with past trauma. This therapeutic intervention assists people in sorting out negative thoughts and emotions that may come with past trauma. A practitioner will assist an individual to focus on their inner experience of the trauma while visually following an outer stimulus.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The theory behind cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves changing damaging and irrational thought patterns to modify emotions and behaviors. Interventions aim to re-train the brain so that individuals can behave differently in places that they were originally fearful of. Clinicians help people to challenge, alter and confront attitudes and thought processes so they can change how they respond to stressful situations.
- Relaxation and Visualization Exercises: Another treatment option for claustrophobia involves calming the mind and easing panic through relaxation and visualization activities. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness and visualization are all techniques used to treat claustrophobia. In these interventions, individuals are instructed to count while breathing slowly and deeply, while visualizing a safe, calming place. Through mindfulness techniques, people are encouraged to focus on something tangible and non-threatening in the here and now.
- Systematic desensitization: Systematic desensitization is another technique involving relaxation and visualization to decrease anxiety. In this technique, individuals are instructed to use relaxation and visualization techniques while experiencing anxiety related to the phobia. An individual is encouraged to focus on methods of physical and mental relaxation while being exposed to a trigger, with the idea that individuals can overcome their fear in successive steps.
Treating Claustrophobia with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse
Managing claustrophobia without professional help can be highly intense and distressing and could potentially lead to co-occurring substance abuse. Individuals may attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol in attempts to alleviate physiological and emotional distress. It is very common for substance use disorders and phobias to coincide with each other.
Co-occurring substance use only serves to exacerbate the symptoms of claustrophobia. There are various side effects associated with drinking or drug abuse that could amplify physiological symptoms. Alcohol and drug abuse alter brain chemistry by reducing the levels of neurotransmitters that manage moods. This alteration can make a person more vulnerable to anxiety or mood disorders. Drugs and alcohol can also negatively impact physical health and cause isolation, making it harder to cope and obtain help.
A clinician needs to treat anxiety disorder and substance use disorder at the same time to achieve the best results. It is necessary for a treatment plan to cover both issues, because treating one and not the other may not help them recover from both. Dual diagnosis treatment is the most effective course of action for co-occurring substance use disorders and claustrophobia.
The fear of being constricted can be incapacitating and interfere with everyday functioning and overall happiness. Fortunately, claustrophobia is a treatable condition with a high recovery rate. Some individuals have the potential to outgrow claustrophobic thoughts and behaviors as they mature, while symptoms tend to linger longer for other people. There are several methods of treatment for anxiety including cognitive behavior therapy, visualization and relaxation and psychotropic medication interventions.
If you have anxiety and panic related to claustrophobia, you are not alone. There are many professionally trained therapists specializing in the treatment of claustrophobia who can assist you in implementing various treatment options.
If you or a loved one are simultaneously experiencing claustrophobia and a co-occurring substance use disorder, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals offers a number of treatment programs for substance use and co-occurring disorder like claustrophobia. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.
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.