The Relationship Between Social Anxiety Disorder And Substance Use

 In Disorders

Social situations can be some of the hardest environments for some people to navigate. You might find yourself becoming self-conscious about how other people are perceiving you or miss social cues. Nervousness here and there is normal but when it starts to disrupt your everyday life, then you could be experiencing social anxiety disorder (SAD) which puts you at a higher risk for substance use disorder. 

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety, or social phobia, is the fear or feelings of nervousness interacting with others on a social level. This can be large-scale like at a party or in a classroom or on a smaller scale like day-to-day interactions. It can impact your ability to develop new healthy and fulfilling relationships with people that may want to get to know you because of your fear of putting yourself out there.

Social anxiety is a common disorder that affects many people, although some can mask it better than others. Dealing with the symptoms of social anxiety can lead to finding ways that help you cope with the anxiousness. Substance abuse is a common way to self-treat SAD. Since these disorders are so often co-occurring, they must be treated simultaneously. 

Symptoms of Social Anxiety 

Feeling butterflies in your stomach or simply a little nervousness is common and sometimes healthy. If you are in a situation that your body does not feel comfortable in, it is a natural response to keep you safe. Those feelings can be used to let you know that you care about a person or are even excited to be around them or they can be used to tell you when something might be wrong.

Social anxiety is different in that it disrupts your everyday life. It involves high anxiety, self-consciousness, and feelings of embarrassment during daily activities that most people seem comfortable in. SAD may cause you to avoid social situations so you don’t feel uncomfortable. Social anxiety can present itself in many forms including physical symptoms like: 

  • Sweating
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Shaking

as well as emotional and behavioral symptoms like:

  • Avoiding areas with large gatherings of people
  • Anxiety over events or actions
  • Constant criticism of your performance during or after social situations
  • Withdrawing from daily activities that require social interaction
  • Fear that others can tell you are anxious

Risk Factors of Social Anxiety 

Like any other illness, there are risk factors that put you at a higher chance of developing social anxiety. Although SAD tends to be higher in women, males often develop it as well. It often blossoms in the younger teen years, but you may experience its onset at any point in your life. If someone in your family has a social anxiety disorder, you may be more genetically predisposed to having it. Although you can have social anxiety without any of these factors, there is an increased risk the more of these factors you fit into.

Your childhood experiences affect you in many ways. When you were younger you may have experienced bullying by other children or adults. Being rejected can lead to humiliation and feelings of embarrassment. This can even happen if you feel excluded from your family. Negative experiences can impact a person so much that it affects them on an emotional, physical, and mental level and can lead to disorders like SAD.

New environments are a big trigger for someone with social anxiety. Things like asking for help or making phone calls are often extremely difficult as well. These anxiety triggers can make life extremely difficult if you have SAD. You may find you go for long periods without things you want or need because your anxiety prevents you from acquiring necessities.

Social Anxiety Disorder and Substance Abuse

Substance use can trigger an immediate onset of anxiety or higher levels of anxiety. Maybe you use drugs or alcohol to combat your social anxiety and tend to use them when you are alone. When you decide to go into a social setting, if the effects of the substance wear off, so does your social confidence. This can cause someone increased substance use and you may become reliant on drugs to feel relaxed in social settings.

Another issue that can arise is that once the alcohol or drug wears off, you start to remember your actions while under the influence. This can create more anxiousness as you come down from the high of the drug and remember things you find embarrassing or unlike yourself. You may then turn back to the substance to help wash out that memory, and the cycle begins again. For lasting recovery, treating both substance abuse and anxiety disorders is essential. 

Co-occurring disorders are very common in someone who struggles with substance abuse, and can even be the reason a substance issue has developed. Social anxiety disorder can be crippling and can lead to someone wanting to find a way to cope with it. At Mountain Peak Recovery, we understand the importance of treating both your substance use issues and any co-occurring disorders you may be dealing with. We tailor our programs to your unique circumstances and treat any co-occurring mental illness that can affect substance abuse. Our facility gives you a chance to step away from your day-to-day interactions and focus on finding healthy ways to work through the anxiousness you may be faced with. We provide a safe and comfortable environment to help you truly get the appropriate treatment you need. If you or a loved one are ready to start your recovery call Mountain Peak Recovery at (801) 824-8829 to receive more information on our treatment options. 

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