Phobias

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

View the Phobias Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuidePhobias Picture Slideshow: What Are You Afraid Of?

Phobias Picture Slideshow: What Are You Afraid Of?

What are the complications of phobias?

If not treated, a phobia can worsen to the point in which the person's quality of life is seriously impaired, both by the phobia itself and/or by attempts to avoid or hide it. For example, a fear of flying can result in the sufferer being unable to travel. Some people have problems with their relationships, have failed in school, and/or been unable to maintain employment as the result of a severe phobia. While there may be periods of spontaneous improvement, a phobia does not usually go away unless the individual gets treatments that are specifically designed to address this condition. Alcoholics can be up to 10 times more likely to develop a phobia than nonalcoholics, and phobic individuals may be twice as likely to suffer from alcoholism or another addiction than those who have never been phobic. It has even been found that phobic anxiety can be life-threatening for some people, increasing the risk of suffering from heart disease in both men and women.

What are the causes and risk factors for phobias?

While there is no single known cause for phobias, they are thought to run in families, be influenced by culture and how one is parented, and can be triggered by different life events. Immediate family members of phobia sufferers are about three times more likely to also have a phobia than those who do not have such a family history. People whose parents either were overly protective or were distant in raising them may be at more risk of developing phobias. Phobia sufferers tend to be more likely to manage stress by avoiding the stressful situation and have trouble decreasing the intensity of the fearful situation. Another possible contributor to the development of phobias is classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, an individual responds to something that scares them by generalizing the fear of that specific thing or situation to more generalized things or situations. For example, a person may respond to a real threat by one dog to developing a phobia of all dogs.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2016
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