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Problem Drinking and Social Anxiety

social anxietyAccording to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual (DSM-5), social anxiety is characterized by “a strong and persistent fear in social or performance situations.”[1] A person with social anxiety often fears that they will act in an embarrassing way or show symptoms of anxiety, which would be humiliating to them.1 Social anxiety can have severe effects on a person’s lifestyle, including relationships and career.1 A less known fact is that 28 percent of men and women who suffer social anxiety meet the criteria for a lifetime alcohol use disorder.1

Researchers have found that both men and women who were diagnosed with social anxiety tend to drink more excessively in situations in which drinking is socially acceptable: parties, happy hours, gatherings.1 On the other hand, they were found to drink less in situations in which it might make them stand out.1

An individual’s expectation for how drinking will affect them plays a large role in how much they drink in a given situation.1 If one believes that drinking will make them more relaxed and sociable, they are more likely to drink—even to excess.1 If a social event is happening, a person with social anxiety may have a drink before they go out to help bring them out of their shell.1 In reality, this can lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder.1

Oftentimes, people with social anxiety believe that drinking has positive, and no negative, effects on their behavior.1 Family and friends are often hesitant to confront the person drinking a little too much for fear of embarrassing or angering them as they try and deal with social anxiety.1 The best thing for a person with social anxiety is to take time off to examine their motivation for drinking.1 They should evaluate the positive and negative effects and even gain some outside input about their behavior changes when under the influence.1 Problem drinking is a process, and if it can be caught early, it may not develop into a full disorder.1

More importantly, the individual with social anxiety should seek counseling aimed at replacing drinking with another, more healthy, strategy to help cope with anxiety.1 Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment as it helps to change the thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors that are associated with social anxiety.1 Antidepressant medicines are available to help treat social anxiety, as well.1 Seeking treatment sooner than later can help avoid the negative consequences that come with social anxiety and help to protect against problem drinking.1

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