Social Anxiety and Problem Drinking
Most people have at least a functional working definition in regards to social anxiety. Social anxiety is characterized by a persistent and strong fear when social situations or when there is an expectation to perform in a given set of circumstances. People who suffer from social anxiety disorders, therefore, have a fear they will act in an embarrassing way or their anxiety will manifest outward in a fashion that will bring attention to them. Social anxiety disorders are classified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
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There are some solid connections between social anxiety and problem drinking. In a 2010 study published in Psychological Medicine, 28% of men and women who are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder meet the criteria for a lifetime prevalence of alcohol abuse issues. While that statistic may lead people to conclude that social anxiety and problem drinking is a given, the connections between social anxiety and problem drinking may not be as clear cut beyond initial appearances.
The Connection Between Social Anxiety and Problem Drinking
In an article written by Joseph Nowinski Ph. D. that appeared in The New Grief and in the October 17th edition of Psychology Today, a recent study was conducted among university students in Germany regarding the connection between social anxiety and problem drinking. The purpose of the study was to not only determine if the findings would be applicable to older populations, but to see in given certain situations the degree to which social anxiety and problem drinking occur. The study was published this year in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Researchers found that men and women who had diagnoses of social anxiety disorder had a tendency to drink to excess in situations where those drinking patterns were more or less acceptable such as parties and happy hours. However, it was discovered those diagnosed with social anxiety disorders tended to curtail their drinking if those situations presented instances where their behaviors may stand out if intoxicated.
Another finding in this study of social anxiety and problem drinking centered on expectations. While social anxiety in of itself was associated with more drinking, expectations by the individual in regards to how their drinking behavior would affect them played a significant role in how much they drank in a given situation. For example, if an individual believes that drinking makes them more relaxed and sociable in a setting such as a dinner party, that person is more likely to drink and maybe to an excessive level. However, if that same individual is in an environment where there are performance expectations, that person may curtail drinking in order to perform.
What Can Be Done?
The bond between social anxiety and problem drinking tends to strengthen when drinking is perceived to have positive effects on their behavior. Unfortunately, there are situations in which people engage in negative behaviors while drinking and either don’t realize the gravity their behavior has in those instances. Those with social anxiety disorders need to understand what motivations are present in their drinking behaviors. Once those motivations are understood, an individual needs to take stock in what the positive and negative effects are in relation to their drinking behaviors.
In looking at measures to reduce the potential strong bonds that may exist between social anxiety and problem drinking, the individual with social anxiety issues may look to seek counseling in order to help develop coping strategies that don’t involve drinking. Therapeutic strategies such as role playing, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and the use of some antidepressant medications may also help the socially anxious individual.