Agoraphobia and Addiction: Is There a Connection?

Many individuals have a combination of a substance use disorder and a mental health condition. This is referred to as having co-occurring disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States have a co-occurring disorder.”[1]

Some of the most common mental health conditions to co-occur with addiction are anxiety disorders. While most people think of social anxiety or generalized anxiety, agoraphobia is a common type of anxiety disorder that affects individuals with substance use disorders as well.

Struggling with comorbid addiction and agoraphobia is extremely mentally and emotionally distressing. Unfortunately, many individuals may be unaware that they are dealing with co-occurring disorders. Because of this, it is imperative to spread awareness about the connection between agoraphobia and addiction.

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes individuals to fear becoming overwhelmed or being unable to escape and get help. The fear and anxiety associated with this mental health condition cause individuals to avoid:

  • Open or enclosed spaces
  • Crowds
  • Places outside of the home
  • Public transportation

It is estimated that 0.9% of American adults struggle with agoraphobia. This condition affects women more often than men and tends to occur most commonly in people aged 45 to 59. Additionally, of the individuals who struggle with agoraphobia, 40.6% reported having severe impairment in their everyday life.[2]

The risk factors for developing this condition include:

  • Having panic attacks
  • Having phobias to other things
  • Experiencing a traumatic or stressful life event (i.e. death of a loved one, being assaulted, or being abused)
  • Responding to panic attacks with fear and apprehension
  • Having a genetic predisposition to agoraphobia

The Common Signs of Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is characterized by a fear of leaving the house or a fear of public spaces. This fear can manifest itself similarly to a panic attack.

The common signs someone is struggling with agoraphobia include an individual being afraid of leaving the house and experiencing the following symptoms when confronted with the idea of going into public space:

  • Rapid heart rate and chest pain
  • Fear that causes a shaky feeling
  • Hyperventilation and trouble breathing
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Sudden chills
  • Flushing (redness) of the face
  • Excessive sweating
  • Upset stomach

According to research, about 87% of people with agoraphobia will struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition.[3] The main conditions that individuals with agoraphobia struggle with include other forms of anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.

How are Agoraphobia and Addiction Connected?

Agoraphobia and addiction are connected in a couple of ways.

First, individuals with agoraphobia are at an increased risk of developing an addiction. Oftentimes, the isolation associated with this mental health condition leads individuals to deal with loneliness, chronic feelings of emptiness, and depression on top of their anxiety symptoms. This may lead people to begin using substances as a means of self-medication.

Unfortunately, using drugs or alcohol to cope with agoraphobia only furthers an individual’s isolating behaviors. Especially if the person abuses alcohol or stimulant drugs, as alcohol stimulants increase feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

Additionally, some individuals who suffer from alcoholism may develop agoraphobia as a result of their chronic alcohol abuse. According to the National Library of Medicine, “there is also clinical evidence that alcohol use, in addition to its initial anxiolytic effects, causes a long-term increase in anxiety and agoraphobia.”[4]

As someone’s alcoholism progresses, they begin to isolate themselves from their friends and loved ones. Oftentimes this is to avoid being confronted in regards to their alcohol use or to avoid the embarrassment they associate with their alcohol addiction. This causes them to become anxious and paranoid about what could happen when they leave the house, causing the development of agoraphobia.

Dangers of Comorbid Agoraphobia and Substance Use Disorder

When an individual with agoraphobia develops a substance use disorder, the recovery from agoraphobia becomes complicated. The fear and paranoia associated with agoraphobia become amplified when the individual uses substances. Depending on the type of substance the individual is using, they could develop additional comorbid mental health conditions like psychosis.

Additional dangers of comorbid addiction and agoraphobia include:

  • Increased feelings of depression
  • Increased risk of suicidal ideation and attempts
  • Risk of overdosing without having assistance nearby due to isolation
  • Amplified symptoms of agoraphobia and addiction
  • The development of additional anxiety-related disorders and substance-induced psychosis
  • Higher risk of relapsing when recovering from addiction

Because of the dangers associated with this co-occurrence, individuals must attend a professional dual diagnosis treatment center where they can receive treatment for both conditions simultaneously.

Finding Help for Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Agoraphobia

If you or a loved one suffer from agoraphobia and addiction, recovery is possible. While attending a professional dual diagnosis treatment center can be scary, the benefits you will receive are worth your time and effort.

Addiction Intervention Services is here to help you or your loved one find the best treatment center for your unique needs. Contact us today for more information.

References:

  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/co-occurring-disorders
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/agoraphobia
  3. https://www.kli.psy.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/klipsy/public/margraf%20Journals%20with%20Peer-Review/Michael%20et%20al.%20(2007).%20Epidemiology%20of%20anxiety%20disorders.pdf
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528232/

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