Medically Reviewed

Alcoholism and Social Anxiety Disorder

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Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

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Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcoholism and social anxiety disorder are two co-occurring disorders that have extremely high comorbidity. People with social anxiety disorder may use alcohol as a means of coping or calming their nerves in social situations while people with alcohol addiction may develop social anxiety as a result of their drinking. Regardless of which condition comes first, both are difficult to live with without treatment.

Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder

Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder, however, social anxiety disorder is a close second. This is a condition that refers to symptoms that exceed far beyond regular shyness. People with this condition have a major fear of being judged by others or facing public humiliation in social situations.

While it’s normal to feel nervous or awkward in certain situations, such as public speaking, people with social anxiety disorder fear social situations of almost any type – ranging from small, intimate groups to larger groups. These individuals may even avoid these feared gatherings completely because they don’t want to experience the associated anxiety. This can severely affect their quality of life and lead to isolation, depression, drug and alcohol use, and more.

Most people with social anxiety disorder are diagnosed during their teen years. These individuals may be seen as introverted or shy when they are young children, however, their symptoms tend to get worse as they get older. Young adults with untreated social anxiety disorder may base their everyday decisions and activities around their fears and their symptoms. For example, they may avoid social gatherings, turn down jobs that require social interaction, and have trouble making friends. While these individuals will often recognize that their fears are irrational, they find that they are unable to overcome their anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition that involves fear, anxiety, and avoidance that significantly interferes with one’s daily routine, responsibilities, and life as a whole. Signs and symptoms of this condition include:[1]

  • Being afraid of situations in which others may judge you
  • Worrying or being fearful of public humiliation or embarrassment
  • Intense fear of talking to or interacting with strangers
  • Fear that others will sense your fear or anxiety
  • Being afraid of showing physical symptoms that can lead to embarrassment, such as sweating, blushing, having a shaky voice, etc.
  • Avoiding people, places, or activities out of fear of embarrassment
  • Having anxiety while anticipating an event
  • Enduring social situations with intense fear and anxiety on a regular basis
  • Making an effort to avoid situations where you may be the center of attention
  • Spending time after socializing analyzing the things you did or said to find flaws in your interactions
  • Expecting the worst outcomes as a result of social situations even when you have no reason to do so

People with social anxiety disorder exhibit physical symptoms, as well. These include:

  • Blushing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling as though your mind is blank
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Difficulty catching your breath

The Connection Between Alcoholism and Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is difficult to deal with and some people view drinking an alcoholic beverage as the cure to their symptoms. Unfortunately, using substances of any kind to deal with mental health symptoms is dangerous and can lead to addiction. Someone who started drinking simply to relax may go on to suffer from withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and full-blown addiction.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 7% of the population has social anxiety disorder and nearly 20% of those also struggle with alcoholism.[2] On the other hand, approximately 15% of people who receive treatment for alcoholism also have social anxiety disorder.

One theory that experts use to explain the connection between these two conditions is the tension reduction theory. The tension reduction theory states that people with social anxiety will use alcohol to reduce feelings of fear.[3] As such, the mere expectation that alcohol will reduce a person’s anxiety can motivate further alcohol consumption – even if drinking isn’t actually helping to improve any of a person’s symptoms. Alcohol then becomes a negative reinforcer that encourages individuals to drink even if their symptoms are not improving or are getting worse.

In the end, the argument of whether or not alcohol reduces stress is still up for debate. However, some researchers suggest that alcohol, when used as a means of negative reinforcement, actually increases stress and worsens symptoms of anxiety, fear, and depression. As a result consuming alcohol to cope with anxiety symptoms may be ineffective. Instead, drinks suffering from social anxiety may actually be more vulnerable to the negative side effects of alcohol.

The Dangers of Using Alcohol To Cope With Social Anxiety

Alcohol is sometimes referred to as “liquid courage.” This is because when people drink, alcohol reduces their inhibitions and makes it seem easier to socialize, be outgoing, and remain carefree of what others think. As such, many people with social anxiety are tempted to turn to alcohol to calm their nerves and ease their fears. While alcohol may be effective at reducing social anxiety in the short-term, using alcohol as a coping mechanism is never a good idea.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that has a sedative-like effect. As a result, many people drink to relax or unwind at the end of a stressful day. However, some people can drink in moderation and others can’t. In terms of social anxiety disorder, people who drink to cope may be more likely to develop alcoholism.

Once individuals begin associating alcohol with reduced fear and anxiety, they may become reliant on alcohol in order to feel comfortable in social situations. Individuals who do so repeatedly may develop a problem with alcohol. Fortunately, alcoholism and social anxiety disorder can be treated at a dual diagnosis rehabilitation program.

Find Help for Alcoholism and Social Anxiety Disorder

Both social anxiety disorder and alcohol use disorder are long-term conditions that require extensive therapy. Using a dual diagnosis, multi-disciplinary approach, our staff can help you overcome your difficulties, stay sober, and cope with anxiety in recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with social anxiety and are abusing alcohol, pick up the phone and contact one of our addiction specialists today. There are several therapies available to treat these conditions so you no longer have to self-medicate simply to live your life. Call us now to get started.