Why Do Some People With Social Anxiety Lean Toward Drugs and Alcohol?

Going out on the town with others can make a person either feel excited or incredibly nervous. Some people, especially those with more extroverted personalities, are perfectly comfortable in social settings. Others, who may have more introverted personalities, may dread those occasions. Individuals with social anxiety, however, may go as far as to avoid special occasions altogether.

Many individuals with social anxiety use drugs and alcohol to cope with their condition. However, this is not the most effective way to cope. Friends and family may be able to provide helpful advice on how to cope in healthier ways. However, when their advice is just not enough, it may be a good idea to seek professional support.

What Is Social Anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a social anxiety disorder can make an individual feel extremely self-conscious. A person with this mental health diagnosis may have an intense fear of being judged or evaluated by friends, family, and even strangers. These symptoms can greatly affect the individual’s education, employment, and day-to-day activities. 

Difficulty With Everyday Tasks

An individual facing challenges with this condition may have difficulty meeting new people, dating, answering questions in a classroom, or even having to speak with a customer service representative. Everyday activities may be extremely nerve-racking. At times, these feelings can become very intense. Even eating, drinking, or walking to the restroom in front of people can become difficult.

Fear of Being Judged

Fear of being judged or even rejected can be extremely distracting for a person with anxiety. Social anxiety symptoms can cause them to worry to the point where they may even avoid social situations for weeks on end to reduce the stress that they may generate. In other cases, a person with this diagnosis may be fine in social situations but experience extreme nervousness during performances. Their symptoms of anxiety may creep up during competitions, rehearsals, recitals, or sports performances.

The onset of social anxiety typically begins in late childhood, when feelings of shyness or avoidance present themselves in social settings. This mental health condition tends to occur more frequently in girls rather than boys in the adolescent years. Social anxiety can be a problem for many years or a lifetime if left untreated.

The Cons of Self-Medicating for Social Anxiety With Drugs and Alcohol

According to the journal Depression and Anxiety, co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and mood disorders with substance use disorder (SUD) are quite common. Many individuals who have difficulty coping with their mental health often resort to using certain substances to address symptoms. Unfortunately, when an individual uses alcohol or drugs for a long period, he or she may develop a strong dependence, which can turn into SUD.

In the past two decades, general population samples and epidemiological data have been logged to support specific mental health studies. The results show that environmental action, genetic vulnerability to SUD, and shared genetic and environmental etiology increased the risk of developing SUD through self-medicating.

Not only does self-medicating create a negative dependence, but it can increase the severity of social anxiety symptoms. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol can also increase the risks of developing physical health symptoms. According to Current Drug Safety, self-medicating social anxiety can lead to several negative outcomes. The risks of self-medicating may include:

  • Incorrect self-diagnosis
  • Developing SUD
  • Dangerous drug interactions
  • Delay in getting professional help
  • Incorrect choice in therapy or treatment
  • Masking a severe mental illness

Self-Help Strategies for Social Anxiety

Various self-help strategies can be healthy and safe alternatives to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Staying physically active can increase serotonin production and significantly improve one’s mood. Avoiding caffeine can help, as caffeine is a stimulant that can potentially make anxiety worse. Caffeine can be hidden in chocolate, certain sodas, energy drinks, and even decaf coffee. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can also be an effective holistic approach to anxiety management.

Exposure Therapy

In addition to these self-help strategies, exposure therapy can make an individual more comfortable in social settings. Exposure therapy involves a person becoming increasingly comfortable with a situation through a gradual approach. Instead of avoiding what they fear, a person starts by approaching the situation in small ways and then works up to a full approach tolerated for longer periods.

Enlisting Support

For some people, it may be helpful to bring a close friend along in social situations. This can help the person feel more confident in communicating with others. It is typical for an individual to have nerves before such things as a casual or professional event, presenting a speech, or attending an interview.

Avoiding Substances

Avoiding drugs and alcohol altogether can be another supportive strategy. Unfortunately, substance use can cause an imbalance in a person’s moods and exacerbate any negative emotional tendencies. Abstinence coupled with a healthy diet and lifestyle and perhaps nutritional supplementation may ultimately help someone defeat social anxiety.

The Importance of Professional Treatment for Social Anxiety

Although certain self-help strategies can greatly improve social anxiety, sometimes this may not be enough to overcome the negative effects associated with this condition. Reaching out to a family practitioner for a mental health referral, getting properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist, and learning new skills from a therapist can greatly improve one’s condition.

These professionals can work on an individualized plan of care to help the client gain the confidence needed to feel comfortable during social interactions. Support from family and friends, mental health professionals, and attending support groups can lead to a much-improved outcome.

Social anxiety disorder can make an individual feel extremely self-conscious. Symptoms can cause a person to worry to the point where they may even avoid social situations for weeks on end. The professionals at 12 South Recovery can help. As a licensed and accredited center, 12 South Recovery is a leader in Orange County in mental health treatment. Holistic therapy can help individuals gain an understanding of their whole self while improving their self-awareness, self-esteem, and coping skills. Millions of Americans struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD), and only a small percentage ever seek help. Drugs and alcohol are not the answer. If you or a loved one may need professional support, call 12 South Recovery at (888) 830-8374

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