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Confessions of A Pharmacophobe: Why I’m Afraid of Drugs

Confessions of A Pharmacophobe: Why I’m Afraid of Drugs

What is Pharmacophobia?

As you may have guessed, pharmacophobia is the fear of drugs, but it actually extends much farther than that. Many folks, that experience some type of fear in relation to drugs, also experience a more targeted fear regarding pharmaceutical drugs as well as developing an addiction to them.

Of course, every person is different and can experience varied versions of pharmacophobia. Some may be afraid of medication, or hallucinogenic drugs, intravenous drugs, or even the common vaccinations specifically. In any case, very little information exists about this fear, which is why it is so important to bring this issue, and adjoining issues, into the light.

Why is pharmacophobia a problem?

Right about now you might be thinking “being afraid of drugs isn’t a bad thing” and you’d be partially correct. However, if we examine this phobia from a psychological perspective, it could potentially be harmful to someone’s life.

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Untreated mental illnesses, including fears, can grow into incapacitating obstacles in a person’s life. Often times, the illness starts as one small problem then evolves into a gargantuan issue that is impeding the affected individual’s ability to live a healthy life.

For example, someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may have a fear of germs. This may start as a handwashing obsession that eventually begins to creep into other areas of that person’s life. Maybe they start becoming obsessive about germs in their house, on their clothes or shoes, where their food is cooked, etc. You can see where something as harmless as washing your hands can possibly stop someone from living a fulfilled and healthy life.

This can also affect those with other mental health conditions aside from their phobias. Someone may be suffering from pharmacophobia as well as anxiety, depression, or other common mental health problems. It may be quite difficult for someone with pharmacophobia to receive medical treatment for such a condition when they happen to be terrified of developing a dependency on their medication.

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Of course, many may go through their lives never needing treatment. Some pharmacophobes may remain in control over their fear and it may never develop into a larger issue. Yet, as is the case with millions of untreated mental health cases each year, many can result in constant stress, anxiety, and seclusion from a world where drugs are a part of our everyday lives.

How does someone develop a fear of drugs?

When I was about 8 years old, my mother developed a debilitating addiction to meth. She was trapped by this sickness, unable to escape for roughly 6 years. Eventually, she was arrested, sent to prison, and it was there that she committed to getting clean and sober.

I cannot speak for her and what she went through during those years, but I can speak for myself. Seeing my mother wither away before my very eyes was shocking to say the least. Watching someone so close to you, that you love so much, destroy their life and their body is simply horrifying. What I do know is, my mother was actually quite lucky to receive help when she did. Naturally, drug addiction in any form is risky, but extended use for months and even years is akin to playing a game of russian roulette.

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Meth is particularly addictive and harshly degenerative on the body. You may have seen photos of those who have been using for only a few short months that look like tenured drug users on their last leg.

As a result, I have been afraid of drugs for as long as I can remember. For me, pharmacophobia mainly exists within “recreational” drugs instead of medicinal drugs. However, I do have a fear of medication, specifically addictive pain, anxiety, and depression meds. I definitely don’t have an issue with taking things like aspirin, allergy medication, cold medicine, etc. I recognize that if I ever saw myself in a situation where I was in need of medical attention, I might need to take the medication in order to restore my health, but of course I would prefer not to.

Fear of What A Prescription Means

Aside from the possibility of traumatic experiences with drugs, some pharmacophobes also develop their fear due to a perceived lack of control. Not being in control of the mind or body can be a seriously frightening scenario for some.

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It’s easy to see why someone could develop a fear of drugs or addiction, given the current state prescription addiction in the United States. In a study done by the American Society of Addiction Medication, they reported over 47,055 drug related deaths in 2014 alone. Although 60% of these deaths were due to overdose by heroin or painkillers, the remaining 40% were due to the abuse of prescription medications, like highly accessible antidepressants or antianxiety medication.

What’s more, many others are afraid of the side affects that come along with medications. Possible blood clots, heart problems, liver failure, and even cancer can result from extended use of many prescription medications. These are hard facts to live with in a world where just about everything, even aspirin, has possible side effects listed on the bottle.

Lastly, societal stigmas and misinformation lead to shame amongst sufferers of mental illnesses and fears. Millions of Americans are so ashamed to admit their dependency on medication to help them live a peaceful life and heal over time. So, many choose to avoid this situation altogether due to a fear of failure. They become afraid of seeking help via medication because they believe this means they have failed as a human being.

Everyone deserves to be safe, healthy, and happy.

Understanding and controlling my pharmacophobia has been a journey for me and I realize that I may carry this fear for the rest of my life. Although, I too try to remember that asking for help does not result in my failure, quite the contrary actually. Seeking counseling or therapy is nothing to be ashamed of and should be used as a constant resource for those who feel that their mental health is negatively affecting their quality of life or the lives of those around them.

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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