Going out to dinner, hanging out with friends, going to a party . . . These are all commonly accepted occasions to have a drink. But it soon becomes something that you have to do. You feel like you need to have a few beers every time you go out in order to feel comfortable during these occasions. This could be is a sign of co-existing social anxiety and alcohol dependency.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is a fear of social interactions. More specifically, it is an extreme fear of being negatively judged in social settings. It plagues about 15 million American adults. It affects their daily lives by controlling and limiting their social interactions. People with social anxiety find it hard or even impossible to maintain friendships or romantic relationships. They often feel stressed and anxious in non-threatening social situations, even when they realize that their anxiety is unnecessary and irrational.
- Rapid heartbeat
- “Out of body” sensation
- Trouble breathing
- Entering rooms
- Going to parties
- Talking to strangers
- Eating in public
- Starting conversations
Social anxiety symptoms usually set in during childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, the symptoms have notoriously been brushed aside as shyness and thus not treated properly. Victims of social anxiety are therefore prone to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol as they get older.
About 20% of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol abuse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Tension Reduction Hypothesis
The Tension Reduction Hypothesis is one explanation for the high co-occurrence of social anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse. It explains that people use alcohol as a “negative reinforcer” to reduce stress and anxiety. If they notice that drinking reduces some of their anxiety in social situations, then they’re likely to use alcohol as relief again until it becomes an addiction.
While alcohol may relieve anxiety symptoms for that given moment, it can also increase irritability and depression. Anxiety can also return or worsen later.
Social anxiety disorder can be treated alone with pharmacotherapy (medication) or psychotherapy, depending on the severity and context of the disorder. But treatment becomes increasingly complex among those who have both social anxiety disorder and alcohol addiction. Early on, young adults with anxiety can benefit from treatment in order to prevent a drinking problem from developing further. However, treatment of the social anxiety disorder won’t necessarily help the addiction once it has developed and has taken on a life of its own.
Addiction, however, can be treated with detox and recovery programs. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us at 855-737-7363 if you feel you’ve developed an alcohol addiction. Our addiction specialists want to help!