Research shows that 18.8 percent of people who experience a phobia during their lives will also be diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

Phobias and substance abuse can sometimes occur together, especially if a person uses drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the anxiety surrounding the source of the phobia. Phobias can create uncomfortable feelings that drugs or alcohol may temporarily relieve.

Phobias are diagnosed when a person has an extreme fear of an item or situation, such as spiders or driving in a car. To meet the criteria for a phobia, the person must demonstrate fear that exceeds the actual hazard associated with the item or situation. The fear must also be beyond what a typical person would experience.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Phobias

Drug abuse can make phobia symptoms worse. Some drugs, such as stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, can cause anxiety and paranoia. Using these drugs could heighten the fear and anxiety associated with the source of a phobia.

Long-term drug use and drug withdrawal can also lead to anxiety and worsen phobias. While drugs may help a person forget about a phobia temporarily, ongoing drug abuse can lead to addiction.

Statistics on Phobias and Addiction

Phobias and addiction can be co-occurring disorders, according to the research.

Among people with a specific phobia, 7 percent will experience an alcohol use disorder during their lifetimes, and 9 percent will be diagnosed with a drug use disorder.

Other phobias and addiction statistics show higher lifetime prevalence rates of addiction among people with lifetime phobias. One study found that 18.8 percent of people with a lifetime phobia also experience a drug use disorder at some point in their lives.

This same study found that the lifetime co-occurrence between phobias and specific drug use disorders was as follows:

  • Marijuana Use Disorders: 14.9 percent
  • Amphetamine Use Disorders: 4.9 percent
  • Cocaine Use Disorders: 4.8 percent
  • Hallucinogen Use Disorders: 3.9 percent
  • Opiate Use Disorders: 2.8 percent

It is important to note that this study assessed the relationship between primary anxiety disorders and drug use disorders, meaning that people who had a phobia that was a result of drug use were not included in the study.

Can Phobias Lead to Drug Addiction?

It is possible that people with phobias may develop drug addictions. Some research suggests that people with anxiety disorders, like phobias, may use drugs to medicate their symptoms, which can result in a substance use disorder. For example, if a person repeatedly uses opiates to try to calm a phobia, the person may become addicted to these drugs.

It is also possible that factors like genetics could increase the risk of both phobias and addiction and make it more likely for some people with phobias to develop substance use disorders. Experts report that most people develop anxiety disorders before ever being diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

Treating Phobias and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

Treatment for phobias and substance use disorders that occur together requires addressing both diagnoses. Comprehensive treatment typically includes medication and some form of therapy.

Antidepressant drugs like Zoloft and anxiety medications such as BuSpar show some benefits for people who have comorbid alcohol use and anxiety disorders, so these medications may be useful for treating people with co-occurring phobias and substance use disorders. Topiramate may also be beneficial for people with these co-occurring diagnoses. Medications should always be combined with counseling approaches, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to address the underlying psychosocial issues associated with the addiction and the phobia.

If you or a loved one needs treatment to address a co-occurring mental health issue and substance use disorder, The Recovery Village has locations across the country and can provide comprehensive services. Reach out to a caring admissions representative today to begin the process toward recovery.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Commonly abused drugs charts.” July 2018. Accessed April 6, 2019.

Brown, Timothy, et al. “Current and lifetime comorbidity of the […]rge clinical sample.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2001. Accessed April 6, 2019.

Conway, Kevin P., et al. “Lifetime comorbidity of DSM-IV mood and anxiety disorders and specific drug use disorders: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, February 2006. Accessed April 7, 2019.

Smith, Joshua, & Book, Sarah. “Anxiety and substance use disorders: A review.” Psychiatric Times, October 2008. Accessed April 7, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.