Is Social Anxiety Affecting My Substance Use?

January 30, 2023

Written By: Buena Vista Recovery

The use of drugs and alcohol can often result from other emotional factors, with feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, stress, and more all informing an individual’s decision to use addictive substances to cope. Social anxiety is a prevalent and difficult condition that can influence the use of drugs or alcohol. 

Overcoming substance use disorder (SUD) may demand an individual to develop strategies for coping with social anxiety. Overcoming social anxiety is challenging, especially when tasked with addressing the intense effects of SUD. However, exploring the connection between social anxiety and addiction is necessary to create the most effective and practical recovery strategies for sobriety. 

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety affects many people, with about 12% of adults experiencing social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. It is common for social anxiety to first appear as shyness or discomfort. Likewise, it is also completely normal to feel slightly anxious or stressed in many social situations. From going on dates to navigating interviews or new social groups and the cultures therein, there are many social situations where feeling reservations or some degree of worry is completely normal. However, for those diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, these stresses can be much more intense.

Those navigating social anxiety disorder may feel elevated levels of stress and anxiety in the face of many social situations. Fear, anxiety, avoidance, and much more can all dictate an individual’s social interactions. These feelings may remain prevalent even in otherwise non-stressful social interactions, such as meeting with family. 

For many with social anxiety, these stresses can even prevent them from engaging in social situations at all, affecting both their personal and professional lives. Disrupted daily routines, work, and personal relationships are all common for those living with social anxiety disorder. Persistent feelings of fear may prevent an individual from otherwise establishing connections or engaging in their daily life.

The Trails of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder brings much more than a feeling of discomfort or fear when faced with social situations. Some of the most prevalent challenges presented by those with social anxiety disorder include:

  • Persistent fear of being judged
  • Feelings of being watched or an unwanted center of attention
  • Fear of embarrassment in social situations
  • Feelings of anxiety or fear in the face of proposed social situations
  • Assumptions that events are going to be detrimental to an individual in some way
  • Expecting worst-case scenarios
  • Fear of others noticing one’s feelings of fear or anxiety

It is common for those living with social anxiety disorder to look to any means to calm these intense feelings of fear and anxiety, especially when they feel forced into particular social situations, such as workplace interactions, holiday parties, and more. These feelings can birth dangerous coping strategies, such as the use of drugs or alcohol, which can quickly develop into addiction. 

Self-Medicating Social Anxiety

Those living with social anxiety disorder may attempt to quell intense feelings of fear, anxiety, panic, and more in any way possible. For many, the use of drugs or alcohol to placate these intense symptoms is common. The use of drugs may purport to help some “forget” about the stresses or otherwise avoid feelings of anxiety or panic. Some may also engage with these substances even if they are aware of the dangers to their physical and body emotional health. Others may find that once they are at such social events, the use of alcohol may feel necessary to quell intense fears and anxieties. 

As an individual engages with addictive substances, they may begin to recognize the use of drugs or alcohol as necessary to process any kind of social situation, from large social gatherings to just meeting with friends. This can also compound the feelings of anxiety that come with both social anxiety disorder and SUD, creating a cycle of anxiety and substance use that can be wholly detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health.  

While some may utilize these substances in an effort to be more social and interact with others, others may simply be desperate to avoid the inherently uncomfortable feelings that social anxiety brings. Regardless of each individual circumstance, addressing the use of drugs or alcohol and their connection with social anxiety disorder is necessary for an effective recovery plan. 

Pursuing Treatment

SUD can be common for those navigating social anxiety. Professional treatment may be necessary to explore each relationship with addictive substances and how they may be informed by social anxiety disorder. Developing personal strategies and engaging in effective therapeutic practices to gain new grounding strategies is essential to maintaining sobriety. Still, it is equally as important to develop coping skills and new perspectives to address social anxiety and its effects. Professional treatment is a comprehensive journey, and only by addressing the use of drugs or alcohol in tandem with the underlying factors that inform their use can genuine sober transformation be made. 

Pursuing addiction treatment –  that can also address symptoms of anxiety and incorporate new life skills, social skills, escape strategies, and more – is necessary for overcoming addiction and its relationship with social anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder is a complicated disorder to overcome, and its effects on substance use can present a unique set of needs in the pursuit of sobriety. At Buena Vista Recovery, we understand the complex, personal nature of each individual recovery journey. Our trained professionals are prepared to personalize your recovery journey each step of the way. From dedicated medical detox programs to inpatient and intensive outpatient care, we blend comfort and safe environments with proven therapeutic practices and personalized treatment modalities to create a program that addresses your needs for overcoming addiction and social anxiety disorder in tandem. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us, call us today at (480) 741-9414 and get your insurance verified.