We all find ourselves afraid of something – heights, snakes, planes, etc. But many of us experience a deeper side of fear – phobias. A phobia is defined as an irrational fear, an anxiety disorder in which the individual has relentless dread of a situation, living creature, place, or thing. Individuals who have a phobia go to great lengths to avoid the very thing they are most afraid of, which often detracts from enjoying everyday life experiences. A recent study believes they have found a way to cure phobias.
A study in A Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics examined three groups of people who suffer from arachnophobia, a fear of spiders, with 45 subjects total. One group was shown a tarantula in a glass jar for two minutes, and then given a beta-blocker call propranolol that is typically used by patients for performance anxiety. Another group was shown the same thing but was given a placebo, and the third group was given propranolol by itself without being shown the spider, just to make sure that the drug itself could not decrease the effects of their phobia.
Soeter and Kindt examined all three groups the same day, three months later, and then a year later after the initial experiment happened. They found that the groups that received the placebo and only the drug by itself did not see any decrease in their feelings of anxiety. However, the group that was shown the spider and took the medication saw significant differences. Many could hold the tarantula that same day, and their fear of spiders did not return even a year later when the researchers check on them.
The reason this could work is because norepinephrine, a chemical and neurotransmitter within the brain that enhances our learning, is blocked when a person consumes the propranolol. In blocking this, memory is disrupted in the brain, a process known as reconsolidation. A person with a phobia has an emotional association to it, and the anxiety they experience reactivates their fear and causes them to panic. Taking the propranolol helps them to create new associations with the phobia, thus reducing their anxiety about it altogether.
Research is still being conducted on this medication and to see if it continues to show positive effects on individuals with phobias. If you experience a phobia, speak with your doctor to learn more about ways of reducing your anxiety so that you can continue to a happier, healthier way of living.
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