Social Anxiety Disorder & Substance Abuse

Social Phobia

Social anxiety disorder is the irrational and persistent fear of social situations. A person may fear being embarrassed or humiliated or be subjected to scrutiny or judgment by others. Social events such as parties are particularly anxiety raising for people who have social anxiety disorder. When is placed in a social situation, immense feelings of panic and anxiety will be felt along with a raised heart-rate, trembling, sweating, flushing and lightheaded.

Research suggests that social anxiety disorder is often developed in adolescence and can be associated to a lack of social skills and experience in social situations, overprotective parenting or limited social judgment experience. This lack of experience and skill can lead a person to fear the unknown and may even become distressed when thinking about interacting socially with other people. Sadly, most people who suffer from social anxiety disorder do not share their concerns with others and will often become immobilized and depressed as a result of the condition.

Social Anxiety Disorder Impact on Normal Life

Social anxiety disorder negatively impacts a persons’ ability to lead a normal life. The daily routine of school, work, social activities and relationships are often unable to be involved in due to the anxious and false beliefs about people and places. They may believe that a person dislikes them, talks about them behind their back, that a party or social event is simply a way to embarrass them or to get them to do something they don’t want to do. These negative opinions of others can cause a person to be unable to work with others, have healthy relationships with friends, family members or partners, using public spaces or even talking on the telephone.

The symptoms of social anxiety disorder can impact a persons’ ability to function normally. Intense feelings of confusion, fear and stress are coupled with physical symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, headaches, sweating, flushing and severe blushing, muscle tension and faintness. Going out in public places brings on these physical symptoms so a person will begin to avoid going out and socializing for fear of being caught out with them. They may also irrationally believe that others notice these symptoms and make comments on them, though this is usually not the case.

Social Anxiety and Alcohol Dependence

People who suffer from social anxiety disorder are at high risk of alcohol dependence because they rely on alcohol as a tool to relax and boost their confidence in a social situation. Reducing inhibitions and fears in social settings is a form of self-medication and can lead to severe and chronic alcohol abuse.

Alcohol is often used as way to medicate feelings of anxiety and fear. It is also used as a way to fit in and overcome awkwardness or feelings of panic that people suffer in a social setting. However, using alcohol in this way simply reinforces anxiety and increases the potential for a person becoming dependent on the drug. Many young people who suffer from social anxiety disorder will engage in high risk drinking behaviors such as binge drinking. The consequences of this type of alcohol consumption are very negative and can include serious health problems, injuries and relationship issues.

Studies suggest that up to 20 percent of people who suffer from social anxiety disorder have alcohol dependency problems as well. Most people who use alcohol to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety find that they will increasingly be affected by the mood-changing aspects of the drug. A person will begin to drink heavier, using alcohol when they are by themselves, at work or drinking to excess to contain the anxiety feelings.

Substance Abuse and Social Anxiety

Because of the nature of social anxiety disorder, substance abuse problems are very common. Young people often use drugs like marijuana to alleviate feelings of anxiety and panic, but prolonged and chronic use can lead to an increase in dependence and negative psychological conditions such as paranoia. Ecstacy and other club drugs may also be used as a way for people to fit into perceived groups or images that a person suffering from social anxiety disorder may have. But these drugs carry inherent risks, including interactions with other drugs and alcohol. Additionally, the feelings of confidence and closeness to friends are temporary and a person will return to their feelings of fear and isolation when they are not under the influence of the drug.

Some substances are known to have a higher risk of addiction, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. When a person has a disorder that they self medicate with this type of drugs, they are at risk of developing a chronic dependence and a high level of tolerance for the drug. These types of drugs can also cause significant social, physical and relationship problems that will magnify the social anxieties that a person may already be experiencing.

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

Treatments for social anxiety disorder include psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy and anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications. Medication is often the first step in alleviating some of the crippling symptoms of this condition. In the case of a person suffering from social anxiety disorder and a substance abuse problem concurrently, they may require medical intervention to detoxify them from the drugs or alcohol before being able to deal with the cause of the disorder. Long term psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy is often required to treat the cause of a social anxiety disorder. Significant social and psychological problems have resulted from the condition and a lot of hard work is required by the therapist and the sufferer to help them overcome these problems.

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