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Chronic Phobias: Types, Symptoms and Treatment

Chronic Phobias include the chronic fear of flying, claustrophobia, and complex phobias like social phobia and agoraphobia. Learn more about chronic phobias and how to treat them.

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Chronic Phobias

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What is a Chronic Phobia

Chronic phobias are a type of anxiety disorder affecting approximately 19 million people in the United States alone. An individual with a phobia will experience extreme fear and anxiety about an object, place, person, creature, or situation.

Even if the object of the person’s phobia is harmless, they will be unable to stop themselves from feeling afraid and anxious.

In some cases, a phobia can cause the person to adapt their behavior and lifestyle in order to avoid this perceived threat. If faced with the source of their phobia, they may be unable to function and can even experience a panic attack.

What Are Phobias

A phobia is an irrational, exaggerated fear and is a type of diagnosable mental health disorder. The name phobia refers to the fear, not the object of the fear.

The American Psychiatric Association recognizes 3 types of phobias:

Specific Phobia

This is a simple phobia that can be triggered by an identifiable cause. A specific phobia may not significantly affect the individual on a daily basis. For example, an individual may be extremely afraid of spiders but will not encounter them daily.

Some common specific phobias include:
  • Aerophobia: Fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
  • Claustrophobia: Fear of being in a confined space, or being trapped in a small space
  • Driving phobia: Fear of operating a vehicle
  • Hypochondria: Fear of getting ill
  • Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting
  • Zoophobia: Fear of animals
  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights
  • Blood, injury, and injections (BII) phobia: Fear of being injured and blood

This is far from an exhaustive list, and it is possible to develop a phobia about almost anything.

Social Phobia or Social Anxiety

This is the extreme fear of being in a public or social situation. The person with social phobia is excessively afraid that they will be humiliated, singled out, or judged. Social phobia goes far beyond being shy.


Agoraphobia is an extreme fear of being in a situation where it would be difficult to escape should one have a panic attack. Agoraphobia is different from claustrophobia and is not the same as a fear of open spaces.

When an individual has agoraphobia, they believe that they are at risk of having a panic attack when outside of the home. They believe that they will be unable to get help, and will be trapped.

In severe cases, a person with agoraphobia may be unable to leave their home at all.

Complex Phobias

Both social anxiety and agoraphobia are known as complex phobias and do not have easily recognizable triggers.

A complex phobia has a much more severe impact on a person’s wellbeing and hinders their ability to live a normal life.

Phobia Symptoms

The majority of phobia experiences will result in the following symptoms:
  • Uncontrollable anxiety when thinking of or exposed to the source of their fear
  • Going out of their way to avoid the source of their fear, regardless of how difficult or impractical this may be
  • Being unable to function properly when exposed to their fear or the threat of their fear
  • Knowing that their fear is irrational but being unable to control it
Exposure to the source of their phobia can result in physical effects:
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Breathlessness
  • Trembling
  • Hot flashes
  • Chest pains
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

It is only possible to diagnose someone with a chronic phobia if they have adapted their lives to avoid the source of their fear. People with a phobia will avoid their fear or anything relating to it at all costs.

Causes of Chronic Phobias

Most phobias start during early childhood, and it is rare for someone to develop a phobia after the age of 30.

Specific stressful and traumatic events can cause specific phobias. For example, if a child is trapped in a confined space and cannot get out, they will go on to develop claustrophobia.

A child with a mother who has a fear of heights, and verbalizes it often, may go on to develop acrophobia themselves.

The exact cause of complex phobias is still unknown but could be caused by a combination of brain chemistry, genes, and life experiences.

Treatment for Chronic Phobias

Most people with phobias are aware of their fear, and this makes diagnosis and treatment easier and more accessible.

If the phobia has a very specific trigger, and the source is easily avoidable, most people do not need intensive treatment. However, with complex phobias, triggers are often unavoidable, and the phobia needs to be treated.

Left untreated, complex phobias can have a debilitating effect on a person’s life. They may be unable to work and partake in everyday activities.

Fortunately, most phobias can be cured with the right treatment. Everyone is different, and so the phobia treatment plan needs to be tailored to the individual.

The first step in treating a phobia is to speak to a mental health professional. The doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist will recommend the best course of treatment. Often, treatment involves therapy or medications, or a combination of both.


The goal of therapy in treating phobias is to reduce the fear and anxiety experienced when the individual thinks of or is exposed to the object of their phobia.

Desensitization Therapy

Also known as exposure therapy, this type of therapy involves gradually exposing the person to the source of their fear. The exposure is done very slowly and in a series of measured, escalating steps.

The goal of desensitization therapy is to eventually alter the person’s response to their fear.

For example, a person with aerophobia will take the following steps under the guidance of their mental health practitioner:

  1. They will be asked to think about flying
  2. They will be shown pictures of airplanes
  3. They will be taken to an airport, usually with their mental health professional accompanying them
  4. They will eventually sit in a simulated airplane cabin, or an actual airplane cabin that does not leave the airport
  5. Finally, once these steps have all been completed successfully, they will board an airplane

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a practical, hands-on type of talk therapy. The patient is taught to understand and identify thought patterns and control their feelings, thoughts, and responses to their phobia.


For more severe phobias, medications may be prescribed. Medications commonly used to treat phobias include:

  • Beta-blockers: These may help reduce the physical effects of anxiety that accompany a phobia, by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. For example, someone with social anxiety may take beta-blockers before they have to attend an event or give a speech.


  • Antidepressants: Serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) may improve levels of serotonin in the brain. This can result in better moods and decreased anxiety.


  • Benzodiazepines: Tranquilizers like benzodiazepines may be used to help treat phobias. Benzodiazepines are effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and calming the person down.

Benzodiazepines are highly addictive, and withdrawal can be life-threatening. Benzodiazepines should only be taken as prescribed to lower the risk of physical dependence.

Individuals with a history of substance abuse or who are at a higher risk of developing an addiction, should not be prescribed benzodiazepines for phobia treatment.

Get Help for Chronic Phobias

It is important to know that phobias can be treated and even cured. Do not suffer in silence, and allow a phobia to ruin your quality of life.

If you or a loved one has a phobia, help is available. At Addiction Rehab Treatment, we specialize in finding you the right treatment center for your mental illness, addiction, or both co-occurring together.

Get in touch with us today. One of our compassionate recovery specialists is here to help you find the right treatment facility for your needs. We are available 24/7.

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