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Social Anxiety and Addiction

The link between social anxiety and addiction is the need for a coping mechanism for support and confidence in social situations. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over fifteen million people in the United States suffer from social anxiety disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that almost eight million people with a substance use disorder have a co-occurring mental disorder. The alarming fact that over one-third of those with social anxiety do not seek help for over ten years proves that other coping mechanisms are probable.

Social anxiety disorder produces an extreme fear of being judged in a social situation or event. While symptoms of social anxiety commonly present as extreme shyness in the early teen years, everyone with the disorder has their own story. Typically people with social anxiety disorder use avoidance behaviors to keep from feeling extreme distress in social situations. Unfortunately, some events are unavoidable, which leads to self-medication to relieve uncomfortable panic and stressful feelings, which can lead to social anxiety and addiction. 

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety, or social phobia, is the second most diagnosed mental disorder. Phobias involve intense fear, and those with a social phobia are highly afraid of social situations. The fears people are experiencing are unreasonable and can lead to physical symptoms and affect behavior. Social anxiety and addiction could directly result from resorting to negative coping mechanisms using a substance for relief. Those with social anxiety encounter extreme feelings that people are negatively evaluating them, which produces extreme self-consciousness. 

Social anxiety may be specific to one or a few social situations or generalized to most social problems. The diagnostic criteria for social phobia, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association 1994), the following factors must be pertinent for a diagnosis:

  • A marked or persistent fear of one or more social situations of performance requirements in which a person is exposed to unfamiliar people, possibly being judged by others, is a sign. The experience involves the fear that anxiety symptoms will disclose anxiety and cause one to feel humiliated or embarrassed. Feared social situations provoke anxiety and predispose the possibility of a panic attack.
  • People with social anxiety recognize that their fear is unreasonable or excessive.
  • Avoidance behaviors prevent the attendance of the feared social situation, causing additional anxiety or distress. 
  • Avoidance behaviors, anxiety anticipation, or distress in the feared social event interferes significantly with normal life, occupational or academic functioning, social activities, or relationships, and additional distress occurs just acknowledging the phobia exists.
  • Experience of social phobia or anxiety for those under eighteen years old for at least six months.
  • Fear and avoidance are not the results of other psychological issues, substance use disorders, or general physical conditions. 
  • Social anxiety is not related to any physical or mental disorders.

Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder and can cause intensely uncomfortable symptoms. Discomfort from social anxiety is debilitating and can interfere with normal functioning. Any combination of the following signs and symptoms are common to social anxiety disorder. The following feelings are emotional and physical reactions to the irrational fears of social interactions:

  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Feelings of embarrassment
  • Feelings of humiliation
  • Depression
  • Feelings of being inferior to others
  • Extreme feelings of anxiety
  • Trembling
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased rapid heartbeat and sweating
  • Feeling dizzy and flushed
  • Constipation or diarrhea and nausea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • An inability to make eye contact with people or speak to strangers

Social Anxiety and Addiction

Those diagnosed with social anxiety disorder are at a high risk of developing a substance use disorder. Consequently, alcohol and drugs can relieve social anxiety when a social situation is unavoidable. Substance use for relief is a prime example of self-medication. Unfortunately, regular self-medication with alcohol or drugs can develop into social anxiety and addiction. 

Dual Diagnosis

No matter what occurs originally, the social anxiety disorder or the substance use disorder, dual diagnosis occurs when both are maintained simultaneously. With two or more disorders occurring, a treatment plan for the social anxiety disorder and the substance use disorder separately is mandatory. Those with social anxiety are at an increased risk of developing risky methods to cope with their symptoms, such as substance use. 

Facts Concerning Social Anxiety and Addiction

Studies reveal that women receive more drug prescriptions than men, causing a higher risk of becoming addicted. The tension reduction theory states that people with anxiety use alcohol to alleviate fearful feelings. This belief may induce higher alcohol use among those with a social anxiety disorder than the general population. One-fifth of patients with social anxiety also experience an alcohol use disorder. Studies conclude that both disorders must be treated simultaneously for a successful recovery.

Other facts concerning social anxiety and addiction include the following:

  • Almost twenty % of people with a social anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder. 
  • Close to eighty % of people with a dual diagnosis had social anxiety before the alcohol use disorder. 
  • People diagnosed with social anxiety are five times more likely to develop cannabis dependence and almost five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence.
  • At least ten % of people with a cannabis use disorder have a lifetime issue with social anxiety disorder.

Alcohol and Social Anxiety

Alcohol can reduce uncomfortable symptoms of social anxiety, but it can also contribute to and escalate feelings of depression, irritability, and additional anxiety. Alcohol use disorders combined with social anxiety disorder can form a vicious cycle of relief of some symptoms and exacerbation of other symptoms, causing more harm than good. Drinking to excess (five or more drinks a day) to self-medicate can lead to an alcohol use disorder and the need to help stop drinking.

Social Anxiety and Marijuana Use

Social anxiety and addiction linked to marijuana use disorders can develop to relieve the high tension caused by a social anxiety disorder. Cannabis has relaxing and calming effects on users, which benefits those with social anxiety disorder. Self-medication with marijuana is not unusual, but high doses of cannabis can trigger anxiety and paranoia, increasing the intensity of the social anxiety disorder. In one study published in the National Library of Medicine, just over one-quarter of the treatment group reported a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder.

Signs of Social Anxiety and Addiction

Those continually using a substance to relieve symptoms of social anxiety disorder have cause for concern. Excessive drinking, drug use, or cannabis use can easily evolve into co-occurring substance use disorder. Recognizing habitual behavior changes can indicate that something is different. Signs that you may have an addiction include the following signs and symptoms: 

  • Developing urges and craving for the substance
  • An inability to stop using a substance
  • Using increased amounts of a substance to achieve the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using
  • Cannot maintain a normal lifestyle without the substance

Find Help Treating Social Anxiety and Addiction in Georgia

The evidence points to treatment of both the addiction and the co-occurring social anxiety disorder simultaneously for success in recovery. The Retreat of Atlanta, GA, offers flexible options for both disorders if you seek a treatment center to address the dual diagnosis. Detox for substance use disorder is essential in moving forward and leads to an individualized therapy plan. Contact the admissions office for more information today!

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