Social Anxiety Explained
Social anxiety, sometimes called social phobia, is described as feeling extremely self-conscious due to an ongoing fear of judgement, rejection, scrutiny, or humiliation from unfamiliar people. Because of unfamiliar situations or people, individuals battling social anxiety may behave nervously, or unconsciously embarrass themselves due to their anxiety. Their behaviors can manifest in different ways that can make their anxiety worse; social anxiety can also impact their work, school, or personal life. When social anxiety is combined with alcohol abuse, it can worsen symptoms. Some symptoms of social anxiety can include:
- Avoidance of certain people or places
- Being embarrassed or extremely self-conscious
- Fear of judgement
- Having a rigid posture
- Isolation/lack of social skills
- Extreme nervousness
- Freezing up or drawing a blank
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Rapid or soft speech
- Sweaty palms
Individuals can become anxious over a variety of circumstances, sounds, and even smells. Unless the individual gets the treatment they need, anxiety can worsen over time resulting in depression, loneliness, substance abuse/alcohol abuse, and other challenging experiences.
Social Anxiety Facts And Findings
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 15 million or 6.8% of American adults have social anxiety. Out of these millions of adults suffering with social anxiety, 29.9% had serious social anxiety challenges, while 38.8% had moderate anxiety, and 31.1% had mild symptoms of social anxiety. Roughly 9% of adolescents had social anxiety, with 1.3% showcasing severe symptoms. Causes of social anxiety can stem from traumatic life experiences that may have scarred the individual, their environment, being sheltered by parents, and genetics. Social anxiety disorders can lower self-esteem, which can increase the risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide.
Social Anxiety And Alcohol Abuse: Warning Signs
Those with social anxiety and general anxiety disorders can retreat to alcohol to feel relaxed. In fact, 20% of individuals with social anxiety disorder have an alcohol dependence or abuse alcohol. Many use alcohol to relieve symptoms of stress and depression, but abusing alcohol can make symptoms worse. Alcohol abuse can produce feelings of irritability and depression following exposure. Increases in blood alcohol levels can create feelings of euphoria that seem to lessen the anxiety, but once the alcohol wears off, these euphoric feelings decrease.
Over time, anxiety can intensify due to alcohol wearing off and the individual having to face their anxiety. If the individual drinks regularly, they risk developing a tolerance or dependence. Once someone develops an alcohol tolerance or dependence, alcohol cravings can occur, causing someone to drink alcohol more often. It is helpful to recognize if you or a loved one has problematic drinking behaviors due to social anxiety. Typical signs of problem drinking that can worsen if not treated can include:
- Turning to alcohol to problem solve or relax.
- Needing more alcohol to feel a buzz.
- Isolating to drink alcohol.
- Spending time with people who drink alcohol.
- Poor academic or job performance due to alcohol.
- Increasing one’s alcohol intake.
- Friends or loved ones showing concern for drinking.
- Combining alcohol with other drugs.
- Being unable to control alcohol intake or stop drinking.
- Having alcohol cravings or withdrawal symptoms.
- Blacking out.
- Getting in trouble with the law due to drinking.
Psychotherapy Treatment For Social Anxiety And AUD
Social anxiety can worsen, and if alcohol is part of the equation, it can create more problematic behaviors and emotions. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options and medications that can help both alcohol abuse and social anxiety. Fortunately in rehab, patients can get access to one-on-one counseling (psychotherapy), which gets to the root of one’s social anxiety and problem drinking. Furthermore, patients may learn healthy coping skills to better help deal with social anxiety and alcohol abuse.
Patients can discover the benefits of therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) that can help patients become more mindful, empowered, and self-aware. As a result, individuals can face their fears with probing questions that encourage them to account for irrational beliefs and behaviors. Lastly, group therapy can help provide validation and support for those in need. Individuals can simply listen to the experiences of others and find a like-minded community. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Alateen can be a starting point.
Medication Treatment For Social Anxiety And AUD
In addition to therapy, individuals can find medications that may help with social anxiety and alcohol abuse. Medications like Zoloft and Paxil, both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, help improve low moods by increasing the brain’s levels of serotonin. Anti-anxiety medications like Benzodiazepines (for example, Xanax) can reduce anxious feelings and can help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. As Benzodiazepines can be addictive, its important to only take the medication as prescribed.
Beta-blockers can help reduce symptoms of anxiety by reducing blood pressure and decreasing heart rate. Antidepressants help relieve symptoms of depression and social anxiety disorders according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Medications like Buspirone, Gabapentin, and Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) may also be helpful options.
Get Help Today
Social anxiety and alcoholism have many root issues that can be helped. The first step in the right direction is admitting you or your loved one has a problem. Take comfort in knowing there are solutions to challenging behaviors and connect with medical professionals that can assist you. Take back your power and contact a treatment provider to get the treatment needed.
Author: Krystina Murray | Last Edited: July 27, 2022
Medical Reviewer: Deborah Montross Nagel