What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by fear of situations or places that trigger anxiety. People with agoraphobia are afraid that they may have severe anxiety or a panic attack at a public place where escape is difficult and there is nobody to help.

For some, situations such as entering a crowded theater or riding in a vehicle or elevator is terrifying. Often, a person with agoraphobia is fearful of losing control, or of creating a scene or being publicly embarrassed. Some may be afraid of fainting or vomiting.

Most people with the disorder have experienced at least one panic attack. The unexpected nature and unpredictably of attacks contributes to the fear that one will happen again. People with agoraphobia and other forms of panic disorder are aware that their fear is irrational, but they are unable to stop the feelings.

People with milder forms of agoraphobia may continue to go out in public, usually with a trusted friend or family member along to alleviate the stress. Others are limited to a few places that they feel safe.

However, people with severe agoraphobia may be unable to leave the safety of home, which subsequently interferes with enjoyment of daily life, including work, school and relationships.

Agoraphobia and Addiction

Agoraphobia and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Some people may be genetically predisposed to anxiety disorder and substance abuse, but frequently, problems with substance abuse begin when people rely on drugs or alcohol to relieve fear, worry and anxiety.

In some cases, agoraphobia comes later -- after substance abuse has altered certain brain chemicals and made panic disorders more likelyl.

Self-Help Strategies

  • Read books about agoraphobia and anxiety. Education will help you understand the disorder.
  • Be gentle with yourself. If you’re afraid to leave your house, walk a few steps from your front door. Increase your distance by a few feet every day until you can walk down the street or around the block.
  • Take a friend when you feel fearful, but make sure the friend understands what you’re going through and doesn’t think you’re being silly or making excuses.
  • Breathe deeply. Center yourself by focusing on small details.

Treatment for Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is treatable, and so is substance abuse. If your agoraphobia is severe, or if you use drugs or alcohol to relieve your anxiety, consider drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. A program specializing in dual-diagnosis can help you address both issues simultaneously. If addiction is severe, medically supervised detox will be the first step.

Counseling such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can help you learn more positive ways of coping with worry and stress. Exposure therapy, which slowly exposes you to anxiety-provoking situations, is extremely helpful for many people. Anti-anxiety medications can also be useful.

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