The Relationship Between Social Anxiety and Addiction

the relationship between social anxiety and addiction

While you have probably heard someone joking about having social anxiety, this condition is far more complex than being shy around new people. Social anxiety disorder is a condition that can cause extreme fear associated with being in public or socializing with others. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 15 million people in the U.S. suffer from a social anxiety disorder.[1]

If you struggle with this condition, you are familiar with the disruptions it can cause to your life. Oftentimes, social anxiety causes people to isolate themselves to avoid being in an anxiety-inducing situation. This could cause you to begin abusing drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with your anxiety, in hopes of being able to function normally in social situations. 

Unfortunately, when you begin self-medicating with substances the symptoms of your social anxiety disorder will begin to worsen. Eventually, you’ll find that you cannot interact with others without using drugs or alcohol beforehand.

Becoming knowledgeable on the relationship between social anxiety and addiction can prevent you from experiencing this comorbidity. 

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone feels nervous in some social situations, like meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. However, if you struggle with social anxiety disorder, you may find that everyday interactions cause intense self-consciousness, embarrassment, and fear of being judged by others. 

Social anxiety disorder is an anxiety condition that causes mental and physical symptoms of extreme uncomfortableness in normal social situations. The fear and anxiety associated with these events may cause you to avoid social situations altogether. This can lead to adverse effects on your relationships, daily routines, career, school, and additional activities.

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

The symptoms of social anxiety are similar to generalized anxiety disorder, however, they focus on social situations rather than general triggers. Social anxiety includes fear, anxiety, and avoidance that causes a significant impact on your ability to function in your daily life.

The emotional and behavioral symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Fear of situations in which you may be judged negatively 
  • Excessive worry about embarrassment or humiliation 
  • Intense fear of interacting with strangers 
  • Fear that others will notice you are anxious 
  • Fear of physical symptoms that may cause embarrassment such as shaking, sweating, or a trembling voice 
  • Avoiding speaking to people or doing things out of fear of embarrassment 
  • Avoiding situations where you might be the center of attention 
  • Anxiety during the anticipation of a social event 

The physical symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Blushing 
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Hard time catching your breath 
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness 
  • Feeling that your mind has gone blank 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Panic attacks that include hyperventilating 

How is Social Anxiety and Substance Abuse Connected?

When battling social anxiety, you desperately want to be able to socialize like a “normal person.” This may cause you to begin self-medicating your symptoms with drugs or alcohol. 

Oftentimes, the false sense of confidence that alcohol can provide causes individuals to repeatedly abuse the substance. Additionally, it is common for individuals with social anxiety to begin abusing anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines. 

Over time, abusing these substances causes them to believe that they cannot interact socially without them, beginning the cycle of addiction and worsening symptoms of anxiety. 

Social anxiety and addiction commonly co-occur. Statistics regarding this comorbidity include:[1,2,3,4]

  • About 20% of people with social anxiety disorder suffer from alcohol use disorder as well
  • About 80% of people with these co-occurring disorders had social anxiety before developing alcoholism
  • Individuals with social anxiety disorder are 5 times more likely to become addicted to marijuana and 4.5 times more likely to become addicted to alcohol 
  • At least 10% of cannabis users have struggled with a social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives

How Does Substance Abuse Worsen Symptoms of Social Anxiety?

Certain substances cause an immediate increase in anxiety while others cause a worsening of symptoms over time. For example, stimulants cause an immediate increase in anxiety while marijuana can lead to worsened anxiety throughout frequent use.

If you abuse drugs to soothe symptoms of social anxiety, you might find that you cannot interact with others without using substances beforehand or during. While this causes an immediate sense of relief, over time your anxiety will worsen and become more intense when you are not on drugs or alcohol. 

Additionally, when you become addicted to a substance you will experience withdrawal when you cut down or completely stop using the drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms can lead to worsened anxiety that causes you to use the substance to soothe those symptoms. This leads to the cycle of addiction, withdrawal, and worsened symptoms of anxiety. 

Finding Help for Anxiety and Substance Abuse 

While substance abuse complicates the treatment of social anxiety, recovery is possible with the help of a dual diagnosis treatment program. Through the use of behavioral therapies, peer support, and evidence-based addiction treatments, you or your loved one could learn to manage your anxiety and beat addiction.

Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today for more information on starting substance abuse treatment.


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