List of Common Phobias: Risk Factors, Statistics & Treatment
Last Updated: November 6, 2023
When you experience a phobia, you don’t just feel fearful from time to time. Instead, a specific phobia is an ongoing condition that can interfere significantly with daily life and make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships. Learning more about phobias and how to treat them is the first step in overcoming these fears and their negative impact on your life.
What Are Phobias?
Phobias are intense fear of a specific situation or object, like an animal. When someone experiences a phobia, their fear of an object or situation appears extreme and is out of proportion with the actual danger posed.
Someone with a specific phobia has a diagnosable anxiety disorder and an irrational fear that they will encounter the source of their phobia. They are likely to actively attempt to avoid the situation or object that causes the phobia, and they will suffer extreme fear if they encounter it.
Types of Common Phobias
Numerous types of phobias exist, but some are more common than others. Some of the most commonly experienced phobias include:
- Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
- Agoraphobia: Fear of places that can be difficult to escape, such as crowds or public transportation
- Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces
- Acrophobia: Fear of heights
- Aerophobia: Fear of flying
- Hemophobia: Fear of blood
- Trypanophobia: Fear of needles/injections
- Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes
- Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
Many more phobias exist, but this list captures some of the most common fears among people with this anxiety disorder.
Risk Factors for Phobias
There is not one singular cause of specific phobias. Instead, a combination of risk factors can increase the likelihood that someone will develop a specific phobia. According to research with specific phobias, the following factors increase the risk of developing one of these fears:
- Female gender
- Lower educational attainment
- Divorce or separation
- Being widowed
- Genetic risk factors
- Family environment
Phobias in the United States
Prevalence data can help us understand how common phobias are. According to studies conducted with populations in North America and the U.S., the prevalence of specific phobias is as follows:
- Overall: 7.2%–12.5%
- Among men: 4.6%– 8.9%
- Among women: 9.8%–15.8%
These lifetime prevalence data show that phobias are more common in women than men. While the exact prevalence differs among different studies, the consensus is that around 10% of people in the U.S. will experience a phobia at some point, with women slightly more likely than men to experience a phobia.
Older research from the U.S. has provided past-year prevalence rates for specific phobias, which tell what proportion of people experience a specific phobia within a given year. Consider the following past-year prevalence rates of specific phobias:
- Among adults: 9.1%
- Among women: 12.2%
- Among men: 5.8%
In adults who experience a specific phobia within a given year, 21.9% have serious impairment, compared to 30% with moderate impairment and 48.1% with mild impairment. This means around half of people with a specific phobia experience mild interference with daily life, whereas others live with moderate to severe impairment.
Phobias are diagnosed using criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A doctor or mental health professional diagnosing the condition will utilize diagnostic criteria to determine if you have phobia symptoms. They may use symptom checklists or standardized assessment tools to evaluate whether you meet diagnostic criteria.
A person must meet the following criteria to be diagnosed:
- Demonstrating extreme fear of a specific object or situation
- Experiencing immediate fear when encountering the object or situation
- Showing fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger posed
- Avoiding the object or situation or suffering from intense anxiety when engaging with it
- Experiencing significant distress or difficulty with functioning as a result of the fear
- Having fear that lasts at least six months
How Are Phobias and Substance Use Disorders Connected?
Phobias often co-occur with substance use disorders or addictions. Research shows that people who experience a specific phobia at some point are over twice as likely to experience a substance use disorder. Those with symptoms of a specific phobia may use substances to attempt to self-medicate and disconnect from their fear.
Effective Treatment Approaches for Phobias
Phobias can be effectively treated with therapy. A cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy, called systematic desensitization, can be especially beneficial for treating phobias. This approach gradually exposes patients to anxiety-provoking situations and teaches them to practice relaxation techniques to reinforce the idea that the situation is safe.
A specific phobia can also be treated with exposure therapy. This modality requires a person to be repeatedly exposed to the object or situation that triggers the fear until it no longer creates a fear response.
Some patients may benefit from taking medication to treat phobias, but studies suggest that therapy is more effective than medication. Benzodiazepines, a type of anti-anxiety medication, may be used as needed, such as before flying on a plane. Benzodiazepines are typically recommended only for short-term use and may worsen phobias long-term.
Other medications that may be useful for treating specific phobias include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like paroxetine and an anti-anxiety medication called Buspar. A physician can help you determine whether medications will benefit you.
In addition to participating in professional treatment, you can take steps to manage phobia symptoms on your own. Some helpful strategies include:
- Caring for yourself with a healthy diet, regular exercise and a consistent sleep schedule
- Reaching out to supportive friends and family when you’re having a difficult time managing symptoms
- Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing when you’re feeling anxious
- Attending support groups for anxiety disorders
Phobia Support and Resources
Some additional resources that can help manage phobias include:
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA): Visit this organization’s web page to learn more about anxiety disorders and find therapists specializing in treating anxiety disorders like phobias. You can also join an online peer support community from this page.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Find information about in-person and virtual mental health support groups. These peer-led groups allow you to learn from others experiencing similar challenges.
- National Library of Medicine: This government website provides a one-stop shop for resources related to specific phobias. Find reading material and links to treatment providers.
Get Professional Treatment for Phobias Today
If phobias interfere with daily life, seeking treatment is important. You can locate counseling and treatment for specific phobias by contacting a local mental health clinic or counseling center. If you’re unsure where to turn, your physician can refer you to a qualified mental health provider.
For those seeking behavioral health services in the Missouri area, The Recovery Village Kansas City is here to help. We offer a full continuum of treatment options for mental health disorders and co-occurring addictions, including medical detox, residential treatment, partial hospitalization programming and intensive outpatient services. We can provide treatment for co-occurring phobias and substance use disorders.
Contact one of our Recovery Advocates today to get started.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Anxiety Disorders.” April 2023. Accessed October 6, 2023.
Eaton, William; Bienvenu, Joseph; Miloyan, Beyon. “Specific Phobias.” Lancet Psychiatry, August 2018. Accessed October 6, 2023.
National Institute of Mental Health. “Specific Phobia.” Accessed October 6, 2023.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “DSM-IV to DSM-5 Specific Phobia Comparison.” June 2016. Accessed October 6, 2023.
Samra, Chandan; Abdijadid, Sara. “Specific Phobia.” National Library of Medicine, May 1, 2023. Accessed October 6, 2023.
Singh, Jarnail; Singh, Janardhan. “Treatment options for the specific phobias.” International Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2023.