The Connection Between Social Anxiety and Substance Abuse

social anxiety

Did you know that the most common mental illnesses are anxiety disorders, with over 40 million US citizens diagnosed with at least one? When you suffer from social anxiety, you live in extreme fear of being judged or scrutinized by other people. Since such fears can cause you distress, you try and avoid such situations. Unfortunately, most people try to self-medicate using drugs and alcohol, which often leads to addiction. When you are suffering from both these conditions, you are diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. As much as substance abuse can lead to substance-induced social anxiety, in most cases, people develop social anxiety first before substance-use disorder.

Understanding Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is a condition whereby one fears social interactions and tries to avoid them to a point where it is affecting their daily life. It is not just about feeling nermiscvous before you interact with others, but rather a painful or crippling ordeal. Most people with social anxiety know that their fears of interacting with other people are unreasonable or irrational. And because this is a mental illness, the anxiety does not go away until it is addressed.

Common Fears Associated with Social Anxiety

People with social anxiety often deal with certain fears. One may feel embarrassed, inferior, inadequate, humiliated, or a combination of these emotions. These fears can stem from various situations like:

  • Getting teased
  • Public speaking
  • Being introduced to new people
  • Being watched doing something
  • Talking on the phone
  • Being the center of attention
  • Being criticized

The Connection Between Social Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Most people dealing with social anxiety often turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate the anxiety that comes with social settings. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 20% of people with social anxiety also have a substance-use disorder. Most people in this category start by drinking or taking drugs to make social interaction less panic-provoking or overwhelming. That means for one to interact with other people, they will first need to take alcohol or use drugs.

Unfortunately, what starts as a coping mechanism becomes a pattern, and that is where dependence occurs. When you find that you cannot stop using addictive substances without some upsetting withdrawal symptoms, you have become dependent on the substance. When someone with a social anxiety disorder also develops a substance-use disorder, the symptoms worsen. Almost all addictive substances result in various symptoms of anxiety. Couple that with the anxiety disorder one already has, and now you are dealing with elevated internal chaos.

Getting Treatment

As you will learn here at , when one is dealing with co-occurring disorders, an integrated treatment approach can help manage the condition. The holistic approach treats both substance-use disorder and social anxiety. Ideally, the treatment services you receive should come from the same institution. If you find that a treatment center does not offer help for both, it is best to find another institution. Addressing only one condition is counterproductive, and one is likely to return to the old patterns after treatment.

Besides detoxification, you will also undergo other forms of treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, social skill coaching, and psychotherapy.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms For Social Anxiety

Instead of self-medicating, here are healthy coping mechanisms you can use to deal with social anxiety.

  • Face your fears: You can start small by going to the grocery store alone and working towards larger social settings.
  • Be open to meeting new people, such as taking a yoga or workout class.
  • Think realistically
  • Relax your muscles

Getting help for a dual diagnosis will go a long way in improving one’s quality of life. And now that you know how these two are connected, you can now get the help you need.


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