The Connection Between Substance Misuse and Social Anxiety Disorder
People living with social anxiety disorder are especially vulnerable to substance abuse problems. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, up to 20 percent of all people with anxiety have struggled with substance misuse issues. People with anxiety are also two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population. What links substance misuse and social anxiety?
Understanding Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder affects approximately 15 million American adults. It’s a condition that makes its sufferers intensely uncomfortable in any social situation. Though introversion and social anxiety go hand in hand, there’s a notable difference between merely being quiet or withdrawn and having a fully realized social anxiety disorder.
For people living with this condition, even routine interactions like a trip to the grocery store or a watercooler conversation with a co-worker can cause debilitating symptoms like shaking, sweating palms, racing heart rate, panic attacks and intense self-consciousness. Social anxiety disorder can disrupt the lives of those who struggle with it. For example, people who have it may pass up promising job or educational opportunities or potential romantic relationships because they are too stress-inducing. People with social anxiety disorder are also at an increased risk for developing major depressive disorder and substance misuse issues.
Self-Medicating for Anxiety
For those who can’t shake self-doubt and persistent symptoms of anxiety, drugs and alcohol can seem like a lifesaver — at least, at first. For example, depressants like alcohol and marijuana lower inhibitions and ease nervousness, temporarily removing the self-consciousness that usually makes it impossible for social anxiety sufferers to relax and feel good about themselves.
On the other side of the coin, stimulants like ecstasy, methamphetamine and cocaine can give users with social anxiety disorder an immediate flood of energy and self-confidence. The elation they experience while using these drugs demolishes their self-esteem problems and leaves them feeling like they’re on top of the world — temporarily.
But these dangerous substances only mask social anxiety symptoms. Genuinely overcoming it takes hard work, and there are no simple solutions. Drugs and alcohol can provide a brief respite from social anxiety. But when the effects wear off, far too many users with social anxiety will go back for another fix time and again, looking to recapture that initial rush of positivity. Over time, they gradually build up their tolerance, forcing them to consume more drugs or alcohol to gain the same effect.
This situation makes addiction virtually unavoidable, unless socially anxious users manage to break the cycle before it destroys their lives. Some have enough motivation to do so, but sadly, far too many fall into chemical dependency.
How Socially Anxious People Get Help
Because they are isolated and secretive by nature, sufferers with substance use problems usually have no problems hiding the extent of their substance abuse. Those riddled with shame and self-doubt are understandably reluctant to come forward about their struggles or take the initiative to seek help on their own. This situation puts an additional burden on close friends and family members, who must be alert enough to notice the warning signs and compassionate enough to intervene on behalf of their loved one.
The goal of substance misuse treatment for people with social anxiety should include not just getting sober, but also developing a more robust sense of self and empowering them to face their challenges confidently. They need to learn healthier skills for managing the crippling symptoms of their mental health disorder to reduce the risk of future relapse in environments where they feel unworthy, irrelevant or worthless.
Discover Your Next Steps
A comprehensive long-term treatment plan is critical for social anxiety sufferers as they work to maintain sobriety after completing a rehab program. Group therapy is one way to help, but socially anxious people in recovery do well to sustain a relationship with a one-on-one behavioral therapist who is fully aware of their problems with social anxiety and addiction, and is working with them to overcome these hurdles.
If you are ready to experience the “heart of recovery” in New Jersey, reach out to Seabrook’s admissions team today. For more than four decades, we have been helping adult men and women realize the full potential in their lives, and we are ready to do the same for you.