When you’re at a party or at a social gathering, it’s common to feel uncomfortable, especially if you don’t know anyone. It’s practically natural for people to feel shy or quiet at first as they slowly get to know the people in the room. But for someone with social anxiety symptoms, the feeling of being shy is multiplied by thousands. It’s not just feeling shy; it’s feeling like you want to blend into the walls. It’s not just have a few uncomfortable moments of social awkwardness; it’s feeling terror and intense anxiety about being with others you don’t know.
This is social anxiety disorder.
Keep in mind that when a person has a diagnosis it means that that illness gets in the way of living a regular life. It means that the symptoms they experience prevent them from being able to work, form healthy relationships, or enjoy their life. So, social anxiety disorder isn’t just a simple case of occasional social embarrassment. It can be a big problem for someone, especially if they’re unsure why they are feeling the way they are.
In fact, a person might think to themselves, “Why can’t I be normal like everyone else?” Or they may wonder, “Why can’t I just show up and talk to people without feeling like the world is going to end?” And if they put that expectation on themselves, they may turn to alcohol as a way to force themselves to make it work. They may start drinking as a way to loosen up when around others. This is a very common scenario.
About 20% of those with social anxiety disorder also have a diagnosis of alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse.
And a recent study uncovered that social anxiety and alcoholism tend to have a greater connection in women than in men.
Interestingly, although someone who might turn to drinking to feel better, alcohol might actually have the opposite effect. Sure, at first, alcohol can reduce symptoms and make a person feel more at ease while in the presence of a group or strangers. Yet, alcohol can also raise a person’s level of anxiety, irritability, and depression a few hours after a person has stopped drinking.
However, some people with social anxiety disorder have found that attending treatment for alcoholism has helped with their anxiety. For instance, attending 12-step meetings can slowly teach someone that he or she can feel safe in a group and that there is little to fear. Certainly, learning to feel safe in a group might take time. However, enough experiences with a group of people who are supportive can be enough for someone to learn that groups don’t have to be a source of anxiety. In fact, they can be a source of comfort and relief.
Furthermore, a person getting treatment for alcoholism might also take anxiety medication to help ease their overall experience of anxiety. Of course, this would also help with reducing one’s cravings to drink.
If you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety disorder or alcoholism, contact a mental health provider today for support.
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Vantage Point Recovery is a lifestyle management and recovery center in Thousand Oaks. We share mental health tips and other helpful information on the Vantage Point Recovery Blog. If you need help or support mental health awareness, please connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.