When in real danger, fear is a natural response. On the other hand, a specific phobia is an unrealistic fear of an object or situation. This fear has little to do with reality. For this reason, the phobia treatment options, including therapy for phobias and medications for phobias, is beneficial.

Although some phobias are based on real experiences, they can become disproportionate to reality. Experiences that invoke phobias include spider bites, plane crashes, and being stuck in an elevator. Phobias interfere with daily life, specifically jobs, relationships, and social activities. 

What are Phobias?

A phobia is an irrational fear of a situation, animal, or object. Although phobias are overwhelming and stressful, they are unjustified and unreasonable. A person struggling with a phobia will avoid their fear at all costs. This avoidance can be self-destructive and restricting. 

Substance use disorder also commonly co-occurs with phobias. Drugs and alcohol can ease the reactions of a phobia. For this reason, the treatment of phobias should include all co-occurring disorders. 

Types of Phobias and the Most Common Phobias

There are many different phobias. But, the most common types of phobias include specific phobias and social phobias. 

Specific Phobias

Often co-occurring with other disorders, specific phobias are irrational fears that pose no actual threat. For instance, the common specific phobia of being trapped in small places is claustrophobia. With this phobia, people fear restricted movements, small places, and suffocation. Specific phobias often co-occur with generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Common categories of specific phobias are:

  • Situations such as going to school, enclosed places, and airplanes
  • Nature such as heights and thunderstorms
  • Animals or insects such as dogs and spiders
  • Blood, injections, and injuries including needles, accidents, and medical procedures
  • Others such as clowns, loud noises, choking, and vomiting

Specific phobias have their own terms. These include acrophobia, the fear of heights, and arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. However, no matter the phobia, they have common reactions, including:

  • Immediate, intense fear, panic, and anxiety when facing the fear or even thinking about it
  • Being aware that phobias are irrational but being powerless in controlling them
  • The closer the object or situation time, the greater the fear and panic
  • Avoiding objects or situations at all cost 
  • The fear disrupts normal daily functions
  • Physical reactions including trouble breathing, tight chest, rapid heartbeat, and sweating
  • Feeling dizzy and nauseous around blood and injuries

Phobias in children can lead to tantrums, crying, clingy, and refusing to leave their parents. 

Social Phobias

Feeling nervous in some social situations is normal. For instance, giving a speech or going on a date can cause the “butterfly” feeling. However, with social phobia, everyday interactions can cause fear, anxiety, and feelings of being judged. 

Social phobia, also known as a social anxiety disorder, disrupts everyday life because of fear and anxiety. The severe stress of social phobia affects work, school, and relationships. But, the many phobia treatment options, such as therapy and medication for phobias, can help gain confidence hence improving social interactions.
therapy for phobias

Emotional and behavioral symptoms of social phobias include:

  • Fear of situations where judgment may happen
  • Fear of embarrassment or humiliation
  • Fear of speaking to strangers
  • Fear of being called out on looking anxious
  • Fear of physical symptoms of phobias – blushing, sweating, shaky voice, and trembling
  • Avoiding things out of embarrassment fears
  • Fear of being the center of attention
  • Intense anxiety before the feared event
  • Staying in a social situation even though it causes fear and anxiety
  • Analyzing every detail of the social situation and looking for flaws
  • Expecting the worst consequence from a negative social situation

Physical symptoms of social phobias include:

  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Mind goes blank
  • Muscle tension

Common things hard to do with social phobias include:

  • Going to work or school
  • Dating
  • Talking to strangers
  • Attending parties
  • Starting conversations
  • Making eye contact
  • Eating in front of people
  • Using the public bathroom
  • Entering a room when others are already seated

Other Most Common Phobias

There is a variety of common phobias. However, the most common phobias include:

  • Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
  • Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes
  • Acrophobia – fear of heights
  • Aerophobia – fear of flying
  • Cynophobia – fear of dogs
  • Astraphobia – fear of thunder and lightning
  • Trypanophobia – fear of injections
  • Agoraphobia – fear of being alone
  • Mysophobia – fear of germs

Although these various phobias interfere with daily life, the treatment of phobias can lessen this interference. Treatments include therapy for phobias; however, medication for phobias may also help. 

Statistics on the Most Common Phobias

A significant portion of Americans struggles with phobias. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, phobia statistics include:

  • More than 8.5 percent of adult Americans struggle with specific phobia symptoms. The largest age group with phobias is 45 to 49-year-olds
  • Over 32 percent of adults with specific phobia receive treatment of phobias
  • Most Americans report experiencing symptoms of phobia at age 7 

The Most Common Phobias

Out of all the phobias discussed, some qualify as the most common phobias. According to Current Opinion in Psychiatry, the most common phobias revolve around animals, high places, closed places, being injured, and being alone. Although these are the most common phobias, they are not always the most debilitating.

Risk Factors of the Most Common Phobias

Risk factors of the most common phobias include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Hereditary 
  • Socioeconomic situation

The Most Common Phobias and Substance Misuse

Phobias are like other anxiety disorders. Specifically, phobias are often co-occurring with substance misuse and substance use disorder (SUD). People may use drugs and alcohol to ease their fears. 

People may also use substances to cope with self-isolating depression. In the treatment of phobias, it can be challenging to differentiate between phobias symptoms and SUD.  effects. However, a thorough evaluation during the treatment of phobias can tell the difference. 

Diagnosing During the Treatment of Phobias

Each phobia has a unique set of criteria, according to the DSM. However, there are some overlapping criteria. Standard diagnostic criteria include:

  • Life-Limiting – symptoms significantly impact life
  • Avoidance – avoids feared situations and objects
  • Anticipatory anxiety – focusing on future events causing extreme anxiety

Phobia Treatment Options

There are various phobia treatment options. Treatment includes therapy for phobias. However, for many people, medication for phobias is also beneficial. 

Therapies beneficial to the treatment of phobias include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Although CBT was developed for depression, it is helpful for the treatment of phobias and anxiety. It’s also useful in treating SUD. The goal of CBT is changing self-defeating thought patterns and unrealistic views of the world.   
  • Exposure Therapy – Slowly exposing people to their fear is exposure therapy. This exposure is done in a controlled environment. The goal of this therapy for phobias 
  • Holistic Therapy – Yoga, meditation, exercise, and other relaxation methods are types of holistic therapies. Holistic therapies in the treatment of phobias help reduce stress and lowers the symptoms of anxiety. 

What Types of Medications are Available for Phobias?

Pharmacotherapy – Medication for phobias are SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants. However, benzodiazepine drugs are helpful on an as-needed basis who have specific situational anxiety. But, benzos are highly addictive. For this reason, controlled use is needed. 

SSRI Medications for Phobias

SSRIs are a group of antidepressants. These drugs are useful in treating anxiety and social phobias. This medication for phobias changes serotonin levels in the brain, which controls moods. SSRIs for phobias include:

  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)

However, this medication for phobias has side effects such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Sleep issues

Benzodiazepines for Treatment of Phobias

Because benzos are mild tranquilizers, they help reduce anxiety and treat phobias. But, most times, benzos are for short-term treatment of phobias. They are also given at the lowest dosage possible. Common benzos include:

  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)

Side effects from low dose benzos include:

  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Memory problems
  • Next morning hangover

When to Seek Treatment of Phobias?

Even though phobias are common, they don’t always significantly disrupt life or cause distress. For instance, a fear of snakes may not be an issue if a person lives in the city. However, living in a big city can be a problem if a person fears crowded places. 

So, if a phobia doesn’t affect daily life, treatment isn’t necessary. But, avoidance of objects, activities, and situations because of fear interferes with daily life. For this reason, phobia treatment options are needed. 

Consider the treatment of phobias if:

  • Fear, anxiety, and panic are intense and disabling
  • Fear is excessive and unreasonable
  • Avoiding specific places and events because of fear
  • Avoidance brings added stress 
  • Phobia lasts more than six months

There are various effective phobia treatment options. But, phobias also co-occur with other mental health disorders such as SUD. Therefore, the treatment of phobias requires comprehensive chronic treatment plans. 

Phobia Treatment Options at Discovery Institute

If you or a loved one struggles with substance use disorder and co-occurring phobias, we can help. Our New Jersey location provides comprehensive treatment plans to help members succeed in their recovery journey. Contact us today and find out how we can help.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.