by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Agoraphobia is a member of the ‘phobia’ family defined as an anxiety disorder. Phobia’s are irrational fears, people suffering from agoraphobia have an irrational fear related to situations that involve leaving home, entering stores, especially large shopping centers, being in public places around crowds or traveling on public transportation. Agoraphobia is frequently associated with panic disorder though not all agoraphobics have panic disorder.
I have a friend that I hadn’t talked with for a while, she was having family problems and moved several times, however, I had been able to keep up on her through a mutual friend. Recently I asked our friend how she was doing and she said not too well. I got her phone number and gave her a call, though I had been warned that she might not answer. Well, she did answer and we talked for a long time. In that time she explained to me that she was suffering from agoraphobia. I was so surprised because this young woman had always enjoyed the outdoors and participating in local events like pumpkin festival. I also learned that the problems with her family had worsened.
Though there are a variety of theories about the cause of agoraphobia one of the leading theories is that repeated and prolonged exposure to stressful situations causes such a severe anxiety that the person needs to avoid the chance of encountering any situation that could provoke that uncontrollable fear. There has also been some research linking difficulties with spatial orientation and agoraphobia. Many agoraphobics have poor vestibular system function, in other words there’s a disconnect between what they see and what their senses perceive that they see. Another common cause related to agoraphobia is substance use/abuse. The chronic use of medications like sleeping pills or tranquilizers has been known to precipitate the onset of agoraphobia. Other substances that have been associated with the onset of agoraphobia are alcohol and tobacco. Some experts believe agoraphobia is a result of an attachment deficit. In other words the inability to cope with spatial separation from a secure base.