Social Anxiety and Substance Abuse

What is Social Anxiety?

Everyone experiences fear, anxiety and worry during their lifetime. Certain events can illicit these very emotions but are understood to reflect a normal response to such events as beginning a new job, giving a speech, or moving to a different community. For those who suffer from Social Phobias, engaging in any activity of daily living creates overwhelming emotions. The fear of ridicule or shame will stop the person from engaging in a stroll down the street, going to the store or even paying for something at a cash register.

Simple tasks, like those mentioned above, are difficult for people who suffer from Social Phobias. Understanding by the sufferer that such feelings are irrational only worsens the anxiety. These negative feelings drive the sufferer into isolation, even pulling away from family and friends.

When fear of being judged by others stops you from leaving your house, when worry overwhelms your ability to take small actions, you may be suffering from a Social Anxiety Disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, both women and men suffer equally from this disability. Researchers have uncovered a pattern that indicates familial patterns. It begins in childhood or early adolescence often accompanied by another mental health disorder such as depression.

Social Phobia is one form of Anxiety Disorders. There are several others that can afflict a person as well:

  • Panic
  • Generalized Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Social Phobias

Some of the physical symptoms of suffering from a Social Phobia are:

  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty talking

Substance Abuse and Social Phobias

The paper “Social Anxiety Disorderand Alcohol Use”, published by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that one-fifth of those who suffer from Social Anxiety also struggle with alcoholism. When a person coping with Social Anxiety turns to substances such as alcohol and/or drug use to soothe his/her anxiety, she runs the risk of becoming an addict. Self-medicating will not soften or dissipate the difficult feelings brought on by the anxiety disorder. Instead of helping the person overcome the phobia, the use of alcohol and drugs leads to addiction and a worsening of the disorder.

As the anxiety worsens, the addiction worsens. It is a vicious cycle that requires professional interventions. Comprehensive multidisciplinary treatment is considered the best approach to stop addictive behavior and address mental health disorders. A treatment protocol of co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis) must be formulated on an accuratediagnosisand treatment of allconditions simultaneously: medical, physical, emotional and psychological problems. Only through this protocol can a person overcome the damage caused by alcohol and/or drugs and learn healthy self-affirming coping mechanisms to manage or diminish the impact of a Social Anxiety.

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