Treating Specific Phobia with Drugs

Medical Treatment Options for Phobias

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Medication is more common in the treatment of social phobia and agoraphobia than for specific phobia.

    All phobias are a form of anxiety disorder, so most medications address that issue.

    Antidepressants (SSRIs) for Social Phobia

    Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a group of antidepressants effective for treating anxiety, social phobia and agoraphobia. They work by changing the level of serotonin in the brain, believed to control your mood.

    SSRIs a physician may prescribe for social anxiety disorder include:

    Possible side effects of SSRIs include:

    MAOIs for Social Phobia

    Physicians may prescribe monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) to treat social phobia. They inhibit the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which breaks down certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

    Commonly prescribed MAOIs include:

    • Nardil (phenelzine)
    • Manerix (moclobemide)
    • Parnate (tranylcypromine)

    Possible side effects of MAOIs include:

    • agitation
    • dizziness
    • stomach problems

    Benzodiazepines for Social Phobia

    Benzodiazepines are mild tranquilizers that can be effective against phobias by reducing the level of associated anxiety. Physicians prescribe this social phobia medication on a short-term basis at the lowest dosage possible.

    Benzos are well-tolerated but present clinical issues such as dependence and a possible increased risk of dementia in older patients taking it for 3 to 6 months and an even greater risk for those taking it for more than 6 months, according to a data analysis of 2,000 men and women published in the journal BMJ.

    Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

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

    Side effects of low doses include:

    • impaired memory
    • depression
    • drowsiness
    • feeling hungover the next day

    Beta-Blockers for Short-term Relief

    Beta-blockers work by suppressing the effects of epinephrine, or adrenaline, in the body. They also block associated physical effects of high adrenaline, such as sweating and heart palpitations. A beta-blocker your physician may prescribe is Inderal (propranolol).

    Some beta-blockers provide short-term phobia relief because they slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure. They might be useful if you suffer from social phobia but must give a speech.

    Possible side effects of beta-blockers include:

    • cold fingers
    • sleep problems and feeling tired
    • stomach problems

    Discontinuing Phobia Medication

    You must seek the advice of your physician if you want to decrease your dosage or stop taking your phobia medication. Drugs for social anxiety disorder can have unexpected emotional and physical side effects if you don't go off them gradually.

    Phobia medications, like other medications, can be extremely costly. In addition, some people do not like the way certain drugs make them feel. The risks of discontinuation vary by the type of medications you are on, but it is never a good idea to simply stop taking any medications without consulting your doctor.

    Side Effects and Warnings

    To maintain your health and safety let your physician know of any other prescription or over-the-counter medications that you take, as well as any health supplements. If you have multiple doctors, keep each one up to date.

    You can look up detailed information on your medication in the Drug Finder. Also, read all medication inserts and always contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns.


    Harvard Health Publications: Benzodiazepine Use May Raise Risk of Alzheimer's Disease (2015)

    National Health Service: Phobias - Treatment

    Mayo Clinic: Phobias - Treatment (2014)

    University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research: Benzodiazepines

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