Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person is distressed by settings in which there is no easily perceived means of escape. An agoraphobic avoids certain social situations, large or open areas and public places where it would be difficult to hide. In some cases agoraphobia debilitates someone to a point at which he or she cannot leave home. Any situation unfamiliar to the agoraphobic becomes a potential source of fear or anxiety arising from panic attacks, which some believe stems from traumatic early life experiences. Traumatic events can disrupt learning and memories, causing depersonalization and other methods of blocking out anxiety.

Facts About Agoraphobia

  • It usually emerges between the ages of 20 and 40
  • More women than men suffer from it
  • About 3.2 million in the U.S. have it
  • It accounts for about 60% of phobias
  • Often co-exists with necrophobia (fear of death)

Causes of Agoraphobia

The causes of agoraphobia, like most mental disorders, are not definitive. Still, some experts have theorized that besides stressful and traumatic events, other anxiety disorders and substance abuse may also contribute. Along with agoraphobia, many patients have also been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and separation anxiety disorder. Women may suffer from this condition more than men because of social-cultural factors that encourage avoidant coping strategies. Other theories have posited that more women may seemingly suffer from the condition simply because more of them are willing to seek help.

Treatment of Agoraphobia

Regardless of the cause, agoraphobia is a debilitating condition that completely disables the person suffering from it. When treated, psychotherapists traditionally focus on using exposure therapy. This type of therapy puts the patient right in the middle of their phobia in order to gradually desensitize them to irrational fears. This is usually accomplished gradually over time and is often executed with a close and trusted friend nearby. Cognitive restructuring has also been known to help. This type of therapy focuses on replacing the irrational fears with logical, reassuring facts. Yet another type of treatment, broadly categorized as relaxation treatment, focuses on techniques such as thought processes and behaviors that will reassure and comfort the agoraphobic when they feel a panic attack coming on.

When medications are used, they are usually anti-depressants as these types of drugs have properties that relax users and prevent panic. Some of these drugs include sertraline, paroxetine, benzodiazepine and MAO inhibitors. However, most mental health professionals agree that these medications are by no means a cure, and if used, should be done so in conjunction with psychotherapy and even self-help and support groups.

If you are seeking help with agoraphobia, ask a loved one or your doctor for help. This can become an extremely debilitating condition if it is not already. Talk to a professional or join a support group. There are plenty of other people with this condition out there willing to offer their thoughts and help.

View Resources

  • – definition, stats, possible causes, treatment and outlook for agoraphobia.
  • MedlinePlus – symptoms and treatment of agoraphobia.

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