Social anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are common mental health disorders that affect millions of American adults per year. Approximately 15 million American adults struggle with social anxiety disorder, and 14.1 million struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Research has shown that 25% of people diagnosed with an AUD struggle with social anxiety.
Excessive use of alcohol can lead to social anxiety disorder, a condition that is characterized by anxiety about interacting with others. Many people suffering from social anxiety turn to alcohol to cope with the symptoms.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is the excessive and often unsafe use of alcohol. It can lead to several serious physical and psychological problems, including alcohol dependence and social anxiety. Alcohol abuse is the excessive or frequent use of alcohol.
Drinking despite harm is an addiction, and episodes of social anxiety are common with alcohol addiction. It is not clear exactly why alcohol can be associated with social anxiety in some individuals and not in others.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse can be difficult to detect because the symptoms are so similar to other conditions like social anxiety. Changes in behavior like spending less time with loved ones, irritability, and reducing time with enjoyed activities may occur due to excessive drinking.
The most common symptoms of alcohol abuse include:
- Blackouts – cannot remember anything that happened in the previous several hours in a blackout, even though physically awake and alert.
- Tremors – rhythmic contractions of the hands, arms, legs, or face. They may be mild or severe, continuous or intermittent, and may occur in various locations on the body.
- Withdrawal – irritability, restlessness, anxiety, increased sensitivity to pain, seizures, hallucinations, confusion, racing heart, fever, and sweating are symptoms that can be mild to severe when alcohol use is stopped
Withdrawal symptoms can be similar to anxiety symptoms and are easy to confuse with social anxiety. However, these symptoms result from the brain’s response to the absence of alcohol.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is the fear of social situations. The condition is characterized by a fear of being ridiculed or judged and performing or speaking in front of others.
Social anxiety can be mild or severe, and all people experience social anxiety at one time or another. However, it is more common in people exposed to social situations and those who are highly sensitive to social evaluation.
Signs of Social Anxiety
The symptoms of social anxiety can be difficult to distinguish from those of alcohol abuse. The two are often linked, as socially anxious people are often dependent on alcohol. However, social anxiety is more than just a fear of performing or speaking in public.
The symptoms of social anxiety can be difficult to define, but they often include:
- Fear of being embarrassed in social situations
- Fear of being judged or ridiculed by others
- Fear of performing in front of others, such as giving a speech or performing in public
- Fear of being a failure or feeling foolish in social situations
In some cases, the symptoms of social anxiety may be apparent only when drunk. In other cases, the symptoms of social anxiety may be apparent only when under stress or when alcohol is present.
Connection Between Alcohol and Social Anxiety
Alcohol is associated with increased confidence, prompting socially anxious individuals to turn to alcohol. Drinking alcohol can increase a person’s confidence and help them overcome their fear of social situations. While using alcohol to help deal with social anxiety can be common, alcohol dependence may develop.
Using alcohol for social anxiety can help forget about social anxiety and boost performance in social situations. For some people, alcohol can be a way to deal with social anxiety. For others, alcohol can be a way to escape the anxiety of social situations. As a result, many socially anxious people are also dependent on alcohol.
Social Anxiety and Alcohol Use
While alcohol can be seen to reduce social anxiety symptoms, alcohol abuse can increase anxiety. These symptoms occur regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed as an anxiety coping mechanism. In addition, using alcohol for social anxiety can result in alcohol abuse.
Alcohol use disorder with social anxiety symptoms include:
- Drinking alcohol at least four times a week
- Drinking five or more beverages that contain alcohol
- Needing to drink alcohol in the morning to begin the day
- Having no power to stop once drinking begins
- Feeling guilty or remorseful after drinking
- Surrounding loved ones recognize a drinking problem
Treatment for Social Anxiety and Alcohol Addiction
Social anxiety and alcohol abuse treatment is often a difficult process. A dual diagnosis treatment center may be the best option for long-lasting recovery. Dual diagnosis treatment centers offer services to help treat anxiety and alcohol abuse.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is an evidence-based technique to treat social anxiety and alcohol addiction. Psychotherapy can be utilized in a group or individual setting facilitated by a licensed clinician.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is psychotherapy often called the golden standard of treatment for mental health disorders and addiction. CBT is based on the theory that emotions, behaviors, and thoughts are connected. By changing one thought, emotion, or behavior, the others can also change.
Detoxification for alcohol addiction may be necessary to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can produce serious consequences. With the help of medications and medical staff, safety while stopping alcohol use can be increased.
Medication for alcohol abuse can be used during the detoxification process or as a way to inhibit use through prescription methods. Medication or social anxiety can often be selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), or benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepine medication may not be recommended to treat anxiety when alcohol abuse is present. Benzodiazepines can be highly addictive, and stopping these medications abruptly can cause severe withdrawal.
Social anxiety and alcohol abuse commonly occur simultaneously and are given a dual diagnosis. Alcohol can be seen as a social lubricant, and alcohol dependence can occur when socially anxious. When these conditions occur simultaneously, treatment can include therapy, medication management, and detox when appropriate.
Inland Detox in Temecula, CA, offers dual diagnosis treatment for social anxiety and alcohol abuse. Treating both disorders at the same time can produce long-lasting recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with social anxiety and alcohol abuse, reach out to Inland Detox today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.