Pharmacophobia is the irrational fear of drugs. Someone suffering with this condition may find it extremely difficult for them to cope in day to day life due to the intense anxiety that they experience as a result of their intrusive fear of drugs. They may be intensely fearful of illicit drugs only, prescribed drugs only, or of both. Also, in some extreme cases of pharmacophobia, they may even be extremely fearful of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs as well.

Depending on the severity of their pharmacophobia, they may also experience full blown panic attacks as a result of their condition. Though this may not be the norm, it is still very plausible to occur insofar as they have the proper genetics. In fact, their panic attack may be so intense that they may need to be hospitalized as a result of it.

Someone with pharmacophobia may find it extremely difficult to even think of drugs, let alone see them in real life. They may also find TV shows or movies that show drugs to be extremely difficult to watch as well. They may in fact realize that their intense fear of drugs is irrational, but when in the midst of agonizing anxiety they will likely be unable to understand this reality.

Their inability to think about drugs logically is a large reason as to why people with pharmacophobia suffer to the extent that they do. This, in conjunction with their inability to cope with very strong emotions such as dread, are very significant reasons as to why they react the way they do toward drugs.



Symptoms of Pharmacophobia

As is the case with virtually all other phobias, anxiety will be the most common symptom for someone experiencing pharmacophobia. As previously mentioned, their anxiety may be so intense and intrusive that they may even experience panic attacks that will require hospitalization. Someone with pharmacophobia may take things to the extreme by choosing not to take medication themselves even though they may be instructed to do so by their doctor due to a very serious illness that they are suffering from ( e.g. borderline personality disordermajor depressive disorder, etc.).

As you can imagine, someone with pharmacophobia refusing to take medication regardless of how severe their illness or disease is can cause a plethora of suffering in their lives, and even death depending on the type of disease. For example, someone suffering from lung cancer who refuses to seek out medicinal treatment will likely find their cancer to only worsen. This is not to say that medicine is always an effective method, but it is to say that it medicine can indefinitely save lives when taken properly. Be that as it may, someone suffering from pharmacophobia may be unable to truly realize this.

Below, you will see some more common symptoms of pharmacophobia:

  • Intense anxiety when around drugs
  • Anxiety when thinking about drugs
  • Refusal to take medication
  • May be in denial about their illness
  • Unable to cope with strong emotions
  • May experience panic attacks
  • Muscle tension and shakiness

Causes of Pharmacophobia

There is no known cause of pharmacophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may both play very significant roles. For instance, someone who has a family history of mental illness may have a higher chance of developing an irrational fear of drugs due to them also having an increased chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness.

If someone where to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only take them experiencing some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown pharmacophobia. A traumatic event that may cause someone to develop an irrational fear of drugs may be that they themselves experienced extremely painful side effects from a medication that they were told to take by their doctor.

Such a traumatizing event may be enough to permanently influence someone to not only be less trusting of healthcare professionals, but also to become more fearful of drugs. Though this is not a very rational stance to take, it may still be enough for someone to develop full blown pharmacophobia insofar as they have the genetic predisposition to develop mental illness in the first place.

Though we do not know the exact causes of pharmacophobia, there is a consensus among most mental health professionals that someone’s genetics and environment are both very significant factors for them developing any given mental disorder.



Pharmacophobia Treatments (abridged)

Just as there is no known cause of pharmacophobia, there is also no form of treatment that is specifically designed to treat this disorder. Be that as it may, exposure therapy may be very advantageous for someone experiencing this condition. In fact, exposure therapy is among one of the most common forms of treatment for those suffering from phobias.

Exposure therapy works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to their fear over time. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to that which they fear, the less it will bother them over time. This is essentially how exposure therapy works. It is very important to note that if you decide to engage in exposure therapy that your therapist is very adept and has a lot of experience with treating phobias. This is very important due to the fact that if the patient were to be exposed to too much too soon, then it may have an opposite effect and may only exacerbate the symptoms of their disorder.

So, in context to pharmacophobia, the therapist may expose the patient to drugs by showing them pictures of drugs or by even bringing in OTC drugs that the patient can observe and touch. Though doing this may give them a lot of painful anxiety, the goal here would be to try and desensitize the patient from their fear of drugs by slowly exposing them to drugs. The amount of exposure, as well as which drugs observed in the session will vary and should remain ethical.

If you think you may be suffering from pharmacophobia or if you are experiencing some of the symptoms described in this article, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can get properly diagnosed and treated.




Treatments (expanded)

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Pharmacophobia

MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from pharmacophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with pharmacophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.

Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of pharmacophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Pharmacophobia

CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with pharmacophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.

CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with pharmacophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with pharmacophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.

Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with pharmacophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.

Psychiatric Medications for Pharmacophobia

Anti-anxiety meds

These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe pharmacophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.

These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their pharmacophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Antidepressants

These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as pharmacophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of pharmacophobia.

These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of pharmacophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.

Meditation Techniques for Pharmacophobia

There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from pharmacophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.

Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from pharmacophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.

For someone with pharmacophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.

To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of pharmacophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.

Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with pharmacophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.

Consuming Less Caffeine for Pharmacophobia

It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with pharmacophobia to experience panic attacks.

So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.

Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with pharmacophobia.




Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Pharmacophobia

DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like pharmacophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.

One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with pharmacophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.

Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with pharmacophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.

Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with pharmacophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your pharmacophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.

Exposure Therapy for Pharmacophobia

As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as pharmacophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with pharmacophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.

The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with pharmacophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their pharmacophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with pharmacophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.

Working Out for Pharmacophobia

Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including pharmacophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.

According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of pharmacophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.

There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of pharmacophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with pharmacophobia over time.

Yoga Practice for Pharmacophobia

There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from pharmacophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with pharmacophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.

There are many different types of yoga that someone with pharmacophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with pharmacophobia.

If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of pharmacophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.