Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Your doctor or a mental health provider may suggest medications or behavior therapy or both to treat phobias. Most adults don't get better on their own and may require some type of treatment. The goal of phobia treatment is to reduce your anxiety and fear and to help you better manage your reactions to the object or situation that causes them.
- Beta blockers. These medications work by blocking the stimulating effects of adrenaline on your body, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, pounding heart, and shaking voice and limbs. Beta blockers can be very effective for people who have severe stage fright.
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used in the treatment of phobias. These medications act on the chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter in your brain that's believed to influence mood. SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft). If SSRIs aren't effective or cause intolerable side effects, such as restlessness, insomnia, headache, diarrhea or sexual problems, your doctor may prescribe another type of antidepressant, such as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).
- Sedatives. Medications called benzodiazepines help you relax by reducing the amount of anxiety that you feel. They include lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Niravam, Xanax) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium). Sedatives need to be used with caution because they can be addictive and should be avoided if you have a history of alcohol or drug dependence.
Desensitization or exposure therapy focuses on changing your response to the object or situation that you fear, and may be helpful for specific phobias. Gradual, repeated exposure to the cause of your phobia may help you learn to conquer your anxiety. For example, if you're afraid of flying, your therapy may progress from simply thinking about flying to looking at pictures of airplanes, to going to an airport, to sitting in an airplane, and finally to taking a flight.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a more comprehensive form of therapy. It involves working with a therapist to learn ways to view and cope with the feared object or situation differently. You learn alternative beliefs about your fears and the impact they have on your life. There's special emphasis on learning to develop a sense of mastery and control of your thoughts and feelings.
Specific phobias usually are treated with behavioral therapy. Social phobias may be treated with antidepressants or beta blockers, along with behavior therapy. Agoraphobia, especially when it's accompanied by a panic disorder, is usually treated with SSRIs and behavior therapy.
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