For most people, a party is an excuse to have a good time, hanging out with old friends and meeting new people in a lively atmosphere. But if you have social anxiety, parties can trigger fear and alarm—being in a confined space with lots of people is the last place you want to be. To cope with your anxiety and discomfort, you may try to calm yourself with a drink—or two or three, or more. If you are not careful, your reliance on alcohol could become a crutch, and it can spiral into alcohol abuse if left untreated.
This disorder is more common than you probably think: Roughly 15 million American adults struggle with it, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Also known as social phobia, this type of anxiety is characterized by a person’s intense fear of how they appear in public. There is extreme worry— about being judged, about looking “stupid” or “unworthy,” and about being rejected by others.
What can be even more excruciating is that many people, on some level, understand that their social anxiety doesn’t have any basis in reality, but they still can’t control their fear. It goes beyond mere shyness or a case of butterflies in the stomach; social anxiety can be crippling and disruptive to how a person interacts with others in school, work, and social relationships. Even something as minor as a trip to the grocery store or a company-wide meeting can trigger a flood of anxiety.
There are some common hallmarks of social anxiety:
- Inability to talk with strangers
- Blushing, sweating, shaking, elevated heart rate, nausea, dizziness or other physical signs of social anxiety
- Experiencing an overwhelming anxiety before or during a public event
- Thinking the worst will happen during a social interaction
- Avoiding situations where you have to interact with other people
- An intense preoccupation with how others will perceive you, especially that it will be a negative perception
Given the intensity of these symptoms, it’s not surprising that some people would try to numb themselves or blot out their social anxiety with alcohol. It is, unfortunately, a common coping technique: About 20% of people with social anxiety also deal with alcohol abuse. But while alcohol may seem to make things better in the moment, in the long run it can be dangerous and destructive.
There is a difference between having a drink socially and alcohol abuse, so it’s important to know more about alcohol use disorder so you can be aware if your drinking has become a problem.
Alcohol abuse is marked by a heavy frequency of consumption. Generally, four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men each day meets the definition of binge drinking. (In comparison, moderate drinking as defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 is one drink a day for women and two for men.)
In addition to heavy drinking, alcohol abuse can also trigger cravings, where the need for a drink is overpowering. In the pursuit to fulfill that craving, you start to neglect other areas of your life because you are focused on alcohol. The more you drink, the more you start to lose control and you are unable to cut yourself off. You are growing more tolerant to alcohol, which means you are likely to start abusing it to get the numbing effect you crave. You also have become dependent on alcohol, even to the point where you can feel withdrawal symptoms when you aren’t drinking. Eventually, you are spending the majority of your day drinking, or recovering from your last bender and planning the next one. You withdraw from relationships, engage in risky behavior, and lose interest in your favorite hobbies or pastimes.
The Relationship Between Alcohol Abuse and Social Anxiety—and How to Treat It
Alcohol can appear to be a particularly inviting solution to the problem of social anxiety because it is not a stimulant like some illicit drugs; it mellows you out, thus dulling any feeling of anxiety.
Additionally, alcohol is readily available and easy to procure. It also doesn’t help that alcohol often is a part of social functions—if you are anxious entering a party, you may be tempted to visit the open bar or grab a drink from the hostess. To stifle the anxiety so it doesn’t come back, one drink may lead to another, and another, and another.
If you are struggling with both social anxiety and alcohol abuse, you know this is not the way that you want to live. This combination is referred to as co-occurring disorders and calls for specific dual-diagnosis treatment. You will want to find a rehabilitation program that specializes in this type of treatment.
Usually, treatment will involve detoxification to cleanse the alcohol from your system so you can start recovery with a fresh slate. It can encompass several modalities, including medication management, psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), and support group meetings for accountability and encouragement. If you are tired of struggling with social anxiety and alcohol abuse, get help from Clear Sky Recovery today.