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The Connection Between Social Anxiety and Alcohol

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Social anxiety and alcohol use has a history of occurring simultaneously. Some people who experience anxiety but do not have a diagnosable anxiety disorder use alcohol to help them in social situations. They may have a drink or two before a social engagement or work obligation. Having a drink can ease some of the tension of activities such as speaking to a large group of people

Social anxiety and alcohol addiction make for a more serious combination. Many people who experience a social anxiety disorder come to rely on drinking alcohol in order to alleviate symptoms. This creates a cycle that can lead to alcohol addiction.

What is Social Anxiety?

The second most common of anxiety disorders, approximately 15 million adults deal with social anxiety. The onset of this condition typically happens when a person is a teenager. Sadly, less than 5% of people who deal with this often debilitating mental health issue get treatment for it during the first year. Approximately one-third of people wait more than a decade before getting help. 

Social anxiety often surfaces in a fear of attending social gatherings, work, or school activities. Situations such as entering a room with people, starting a conversation, or interacting with strangers can be intimidating. For those with social anxiety, even making eye contact may produce an anxious reaction. 

Individuals with social anxiety often find dating to be intimidating and may avoid it. Even those with romantic partners and solid family relationships may find it difficult to interact with the people they care about. 

Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include emotional and behavioral responses. Physical symptoms may also occur. Signs and symptoms of social anxiety may include:

  • Experiencing anxiety in anticipation of an event
  • Fear of being judged
  • Fear of making conversation, especially with strangers
  • Worrying about saying or doing something embarrassing
  • Concern that people will suspect something is wrong and ask questions
  • Avoiding being the center of attention
  • Canceling plans repeatedly 
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Tense muscles
  • Shallow breathing
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

How Social Anxiety and Alcohol Intersect

For millions of people, their social anxiety disorder occurs first. They use having a few alcoholic drinks as a way to alleviate anxiety. This stopgap approach may feel like an answer to their problem but can instead develop into a full-blown addiction to alcohol.

For many, the habit of drinking before an anxiety-provoking social situation may just happen occasionally. Over time, it becomes their go-to approach to handling social anxiety. Like anyone else building up a tolerance to alcohol, they may require larger amounts in order to achieve the same calming effects. 

At some point, many people begin relying on getting inebriated in order to deal with just about any situation in their lives that might provoke stress. The idea that they may have a substance use disorder and need treatment for it can itself provoke great anxiety.

Studies show that approximately 20% of those who have a social anxiety disorder also have a dependence on alcohol or abuse it. The social anxiety and alcohol combination is more prevalent among women. 

Alcohol Abuse Can Cause Anxiety

Ironically, using alcohol to alleviate social anxiety disorder symptoms may actually produce anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant, and any feelings it provides related to a good mood and less tension prove to be temporary. After a person has sobered up, anxiety and depression symptoms often arise. 

What started out as self-medicating has instead created a vicious cycle of feeling anxiety, drinking to treat it, then experiencing anxiety again. Many people increase the amount of alcohol they drink and may also start using drugs in an attempt to conquer the reappearing levels of anxiety. 

The term “hangxiety” was coined to describe the anxiety that comes into play when someone experiences a hangover from excessive drinking. Drinking alcohol causes dopamine to generate in the brain, which causes a pleasurable feeling. 

When the person is sobering up from a drinking session, their emotional reset button returns them to prior feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. For a person who has an addiction to alcohol, this cycle happens on a regular basis, often making emotional regulation difficult to achieve. 

Is There Treatment for Social Anxiety and Alcohol Addiction?

Due to the commonality of people experiencing substance use disorders and social anxiety disorders together, several options exist to treat them as co-occurring conditions. Many residential treatment programs and sober living facilities offer assistance in helping a person make the connection between the two conditions and treating them both. 

Treatment can include talk therapy, social skills coaching, exposure therapy, and any needed prescription medications. Individuals often find that when their anxiety begins to dissipate, their alcohol cravings also begin to lessen. Conversely, as reliance on alcohol begins to subside, anxiety levels often go down. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Houston

Do you suffer from alcohol addiction and social anxiety? Purpose Driven Recovery offers specialized treatment to help people who deal with both issues. Our gender-specific sober living houses in Houston provide 24/7 onsite management and access to therapy and sober coaching. We understand how to guide you to the help you need to embrace recovery and deal with anxiety.
Contact Purpose Driven Recovery by calling us at (713) 266-1507 or click here to email us and get started on living a healthy life today.

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