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Social Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately one-fifth of people with social anxiety also suffer from an Alcohol Abuse Disorder (AUD). Although alcohol is commonly used to relieve stress, studies show that the use of alcohol can lead to increased anxiety and can even cause panic attacks.

Social Anxiety Disorder symptoms can be onset by a plethora of situations

Often time’s people use alcohol to relieve daily stressors or to calm their nerves before a situation that causes anxiety. Public speaking, work environments and social gatherings can bring about symptoms of SAD.

Although symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder can be temporarily alleviated by the consumption of alcohol, the long term affects can cause an opposite reaction. An article published by the NIAAA notes; “Clinical reports indicate that people use alcohol as a means of coping with social fears as well as with stress. One standard theory of why people drink—the tension reduction hypothesis—implies that alcohol acts as a negative reinforcer to reduce stress and anxiety. A negative reinforcer is something that eliminates an unpleasant experience. In this case, anxiety or stress is the unpleasant experience and alcohol consumption, which reduces these feelings, would be considered the negative reinforcer. Once a person experiences stress relief after consuming alcohol, he or she is likely to continue to use alcohol for its stress–reducing properties. Whether alcohol actually reduces stress is debatable (see Carrigan and Randall, in press). In fact, some researchers have argued that based on its pharmacological properties, alcohol actually should increase stress and that therefore negative reinforcement using alcohol would be ineffective (Spencer and Hutchison 1999).” NIAAA

In another article (Alcohol, Aging, and the Stress Response), the NIAAA describes how the consumption of alcohol can stimulate the release of stress response hormones, which contributes to the effects of alcohol that reduce anxiety and lower inhibitions.

Continued consumption can lead to a tolerance to alcohol, as well as the stress response hormone.

Alcohol is known to cause fear and anxiety hours, or days, after an episode of drinking. Some fear based feelings may include; guilt or shame, anxiety due to memory loss or even obsessive thinking over alcohol induced behavior. These feelings, and the inability to cope with the anxiety they cause, can lead to more drinking. As this cycle continues, the tolerance to alcohol increases which can lead to alcohol abuse and physical dependency.

Many people with SAD self-medicate with alcohol and don’t even realize it. Some of the symptoms of SAD and Alcohol Abuse disorder include, but are not limited to:

Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Increase heart rate
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Dizziness or sweating
  • Uncontrollable trembling
  • Panic or anxiety attacks prior to stressful situations
  • Avoiding social engagements
  • Inability to communicate in social settings

Alcohol Abuse Disorder

  • Inability to control your drinking
  • Drinking to reduce stress
  • Shame or guilt after drinking
  • Hiding when or how much you’re drinking
  • Shaking or increased heart when you haven’t had a drink
  • Missing appointments or commitments due to drinking

What can you do if you’re Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) has led to a Substance Abuse Disorder?

Detox and rehab, along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, personal counseling and medication are a few options for treating Social Anxiety and Alcohol Abuse. Many addiction treatment facilities offer counseling for mental disorders, including SAD. If you would like more information on your treatment options contact Riviera Recovery today (866) 478-8799.