Social Anxiety And Alcohol Causes Effects And Treatments

Social Anxiety and Alcohol: Causes, Effects, and Treatments

Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder. It is a common mental health condition affecting as much as 7% of all Americans, according to the National Institute on Mental Health.

This condition is marked a constant fear and apprehension of social situations. Anxious people feel like they are being monitored and judged by others. As such, they find it hard to talk to people. They find it difficult to perform simple things (such as eating) in front of other individuals.

The anxiety and fear can be crippling, as the individual believes that he/she will be rejected and humiliated by the people around him/her. Because of these feelings, a socially anxious person is more likely to abuse alcohol. While it can relieve the symptoms for quite some time, alcohol can end up worsening the affliction in the long run.

What Causes Social Anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social phobia stems from a variety of causes. For one, it seems to run in families. It’s not an exact science though, as some members develop social anxiety while some don’t.

Underdeveloped social skills might result in this form of anxiety as well. Those who have impaired socialization skills are more likely to be ‘shy’ when it comes to talking to other people. As a result, he/she might refrain from doing this activity in the future.

A misinterpretation of other people’s behavior can also contribute to social anxiety. You may think that the person in front of you is staring at you, when in fact he/she is not. Such thinking patterns can make you more phobic than usual.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety?

People who are afraid of social situations may demonstrate the following signs and symptoms:

  • Little to no eye contact
  • Mind goes ‘blank’
  • Blushing, trembling, or sweating
  • Fast heart rate
  • Rigid body posture
  • Use of a very soft voice when talking
  • Feeling nauseous or sick to the stomach
  • Highly self-conscious
  • Scared to spend time with people they don’t know
  • Afraid that people would judge them
  • Hesitant to go to places where there are lots of people

Why Socially Anxious People Drink

People with social phobia find it hard to mingle with other people. While such can be treated easily (as discussed below), some people turn to alcohol instead.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, anxious individuals do so because alcohol makes them ‘more comfortable’ in social situations. With that being said, socially phobic individuals are more likely to drink, compared to the general population.

This stems from the Tension Reduction Hypothesis, where alcohol is seen to help eliminate the stress and anxiety that most people feel. And since alcohol is more than capable of doing this, a person ends up drinking more and more. In the end, alcoholism becomes the phobic person’s way of coping with the fears of socializing.

Alcohol Can Worsen Social Anxiety…

While alcohol can put socially anxious people at ease when meeting other people, the truth of the matter is drinking can worsen the phobia in the long run. That’s because alcohol affects the brain neurotransmitters. It can deplete the brain of serotonin, chemicals that make you feel happy. As more alcohol is consumed, drinkers feel more anxious than usual.

As an example, Smith contends that anxious people with alcohol problems are less likely to get married compared to non-alcoholics. This led the researcher to believe that alcohol worsens a person’s interpersonal skills, instead of seemingly improving them.

To make matters worse, anxious alcoholics are also more likely to develop depression, another debilitating mental condition. Smith attributes this to the fact that such people are more likely to have a lower socioeconomic status and less peer support.

…As Social Anxiety can Lead to Severe Alcoholism

Alcohol and social anxiety, without a doubt, make each condition worse. According to Smith, anxiety can lead to an alcohol use disorder that is more severe and persistent. At the same time, an anxious individual is more likely to relapse from alcohol treatment. With that being said, alcohol and anxiety prove to be detrimental to one another.

What Can Be Done

Interacting with other people may be distressing to people with social phobia. Although they may find the simple act of talking nerve-racking, these treatments can help them get over social anxiety eventually:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This form of psychotherapy is usually administered in groups. It teaches a person to behave, react, and think in ways that can make them less anxious or fearful of certain situations. As a result, the person learns better socialization skills.

2. Support Groups

As with alcoholism, support groups prove to be beneficial amongst people with social anxiety issues. He/she can receive honest feedback from the people who are experiencing the same thing. He/she can learn that his thoughts and perceptions are not at all true. At the same time, the person can coach or counsel other individuals who are suffering from a similar case of social phobia.

3. Medications

When worse comes to worst, a person with social anxiety may be prescribed with certain medications.

4. Anti-anxiety medications

These drugs can reduce the feelings of anxiety immediately. While they are very effective, they should not be taken for a long period. To avoid developing medication tolerance and dependence, users are advised to use these drugs according to the physician’s advice.

5. Anti-depressants

While they are originally intended for depressed people, socially anxious individuals can benefit from these medications as well. Unlike anti-anxiety medications, its effects are not immediate. It also comes with some side effects such as nausea, headaches, and sleeping problems.

6. Beta-blockers

Beta-blockers, medications that can help treat high blood pressure, may help alleviate physical symptoms. Such drugs may help reduce heart rate, tremors, and sweating. ha


Social anxiety is defined as a fear of common social situations. A phobic individual may have little eye contact, a rigid body posture, and a very soft voice. Because of these symptoms, anxious people often turn to alcohol to feel ‘more’ comfortable socially. Unfortunately, alcohol just worsens the anxiety. To make matters worse, social phobia can make alcoholism more pronounce as well. Despite these issues, social anxiety can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and some medications.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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