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Does Social Anxiety Cause Substance Abuse?

Read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and impacts of social anxiety disorder, as well as how to seek treatment.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone occasionally feels anxious or fearful, and these human feelings are normal and beneficial, as they enable us to deal with or avoid perceived threats. However, social anxiety disorder, also known as social anxiety phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder that makes a person extremely fearful of being in social situations. 

There are various expressions or types of social anxiety. People with social anxiety generally have problems interacting with others in social settings, meeting new people, and attending social events.1

While those struggling with a social anxiety disorder may have different reasons for dreading particular social settings, the overwhelming fear of being judged or scrutinized by others in social environments, being embarrassed or humiliated, accidentally offending someone, or being the focus of attention is often generally associated with social anxiety disorders.2

social anxiety

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Diagnosing Social Anxiety

Social anxiety manifests itself in different ways in certain people, so it is highly possible to diagnose social anxiety disorder as deep-seated shyness, and even to misunderstand it to be a variety of other mental health conditions while never being properly addressed.3

It is important to emphasize that social anxiety disorder extends beyond shyness and has the potential to substantially disrupt a person’s life. Therefore, when social disorder symptoms are observed, a qualified psychologist or medical practitioner should conduct a social anxiety diagnosis to implement appropriate social anxiety treatment.

What Does It Feel Like?

While everyone’s experience with social anxiety is unique, a person with a social anxiety disorder will typically:
  • Worry or feel humiliated about something that would not bother others
  • Be extremely self-conscious in social situations
  • Be hesitant to interact with others
  • Always feel the need to avoid eye contact when addressing someone

Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety symptoms are signs that are indicative of social anxiety phobia. In addition, cognitive, physical, and behavioral impairments are signs of severe social anxiety.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive impairments develop when problems with thought processes emerge.4

People with social anxiety disorder have thought patterns that have the potential to cause negative emotions and behaviors, which is why one of the goals of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety is to assist in identifying when these types of thought patterns emerge and aiding in changing how they are responded to.5

Indications of Severe Social Anxiety

The following are five symptoms of severe social anxiety.
  • Fearing situations where you don’t know other people
  • Worrying that you will be judged by others
  • Fear of becoming embarrassed or being humiliated
  • Thinking that others will notice your anxiety and judge you for it 
  • Dreading upcoming events weeks in advance

Physical Symptoms

Physical signs and symptoms are observable or detectable indicators of a condition and can sometimes accompany social anxiety disorder. 

For example, in cases of severe social anxiety, the overwhelming fear of social situations manifests physically through:

  • Blushing
  • Profuse sweating
  • Trembling hands
  • Muscle tension
  • Racing heart

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms refer to persistent or recurrent actions that are abnormal, distressing, inappropriate, or problematic. Behavioral symptoms may emerge due to aberrant brain chemistry, damage, or anatomical abnormalities.6
People with social anxiety behave a certain way when facing triggering situations. The phobia of social interaction may result behaviorally in:
  • Avoiding social or performance activities
  • Leaving or escaping situations
  • Using safety behaviors

What Causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

While the precise root cause of social anxiety is elusive, current research has attributed social anxiety causes to a combination of environmental factors, genetics, and negative experiences. This is because the development of social anxiety disorder, like many other mental health disorders, is probably best described as an interaction between various bio-psycho-social components.7

Relatives of those with social anxiety disorder have a greater chance of potentially developing the disorder. Genetic factors, therefore, appear to be involved. 

Furthermore, studies indicate that the efficacy of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) in social anxiety treatment may indicate that dysregulation of the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitter system may also be a contributing factor to the disorder’s occurrence.8

Risk Factors

The following experiences may also influence social anxiety phobia:
  • Bullying: Numerous studies have demonstrated a significant relationship between social anxiety and the victimization that comes with bullying. According to a psychosocial development theory posited by Erik Erikson, bullying causes emotional changes and crises that impact a person’s ability to respond to social situations.9 
  • Family Conflict: Results from a vast number of studies have indicated that family conflict correlates with social disorder symptoms. The role of the family can greatly impact one developing social anxiety disorder, specifically social anxiety in teens and children, as families are crucial to a child’s learning, growth, and development, as well as a vital source of social interaction.10 
  • Sexual Abuse: While emotional abuse and neglect appear to be the most strongly related factors to severe social anxiety, sexual abuse has been reported to increase the chance of developing the disorder. According to a U.S. National Co-Morbidity Survey, victims of rape or molestation were much more likely to report struggling with social adjustments after the assault.11
  • Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse and neglect are predictors of the negative thoughts that lead to the emergence and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Situations that cause anxiety are made ideal by emotional maltreatment. This is reflected in the fact that one of the main reasons for social anxiety is persistent stress.12

When Does Social Anxiety Occur?

A wide range of activities can cause anxiety. While any social circumstance has the potential to be perceived as a social anxiety cause, common situations serve as causes for certain people’s social anxiety diagnosis more than others. 

They can include:

  • Talking to strangers
  • Speaking in public
  • Dating
  • Making eye contact
  • Entering rooms
  • Using public restrooms
  • Eating in front of other people
  • Going to school or work
  • Starting conversations

What Is the Relationship Between Social Anxiety and Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is referred to as the use of psychoactive substances in a harmful or hazardous manner for mood-altering purposes.13

According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality’s national survey on drug use and health, people who experience social anxiety symptoms are especially susceptible to substance misuse due to their propensity for heightened anxiety symptoms in social contexts, as well as the normative character of substance abuse. 

The research further established substance use as a coping method to avoid negative social evaluation and a major reason for social anxiety.14

How Can It Affect Your Life?

There are several reasons for social anxiety and naturally, the resulting effects of social anxiety can be impairment of social functions. People with social anxiety and depression typically have a smaller circle of friends and experience difficulty interacting with others. 

The side effects of social anxiety caused by fear of social situations can end up interfering with interpersonal relationships.15

Several side effects of social anxiety include:
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative thoughts
  • Depression
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Poor social skills that don’t improve

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

When a social anxiety disorder has been diagnosed, the next step is to commence treatment. Fortunately, many treatment options have successfully provided treatment for social anxiety behaviors. Furthermore, social anxiety support groups offer added support for a person struggling with social anxiety disorder.
Treatment for social anxiety disorder can include:
  • Medications: A vast number of social anxiety medications have been used in clinical medicine. Medications that can benefit anxiety symptoms include antidepressants such as SSRIs, beta-blockers, and anxiolytic medications like benzodiazepines.16
  • Behavioral Therapy: One of the most effective social anxiety therapy options is cognitive-behavioral therapy, also referred to as CBT. It aims to gradually lessen the fear people experience in social situations by changing the negative thoughts that fuel anxiety and teaching new coping mechanisms.17
  • Relaxation Therapy: Relaxation therapy is a popular stress-relief approach that effectively lowers overall levels of tension and anxiety. Due to its ability to reduce anxiety and relax the mind, this treatment is very helpful for socially nervous people.
  • Beta-Blockers: Beta-blockers are incredibly beneficial when treating the physical signs and symptoms of social anxiety. Doctors prescribe them to control rapid heartbeat, shaking, trembling, and blushing, which are typical signs of severe social anxiety.
social anxiety

Prevention of Social Anxiety Disorder

While there is a specific way of preventing social anxiety disorders from developing, there are several therapeutic approaches and proactive measures that people can take to manage social anxiety symptoms and help people cope better. 

A few of them include:18

  • Get Help Early: Early intervention can help lower stress and facilitate patient recovery.
  • Keep A Journal: By keeping a daily journal, a person with social anxiety disorder can release pent-up feelings and chronicle their symptoms, making it simple to identify triggers and develop better coping mechanisms.
  • Set Priorities: Having the right priorities reduces stress from thinking about social fears. It also saves time, increases productivity, and helps channel energy and resources in the right direction.
  • Avoid Unhealthy Substance Use: Living with social anxiety can be debilitating. This may compel some people to drink or abuse drugs as a coping mechanism. However, this is counterintuitive, as the symptoms of anxiety disorder can worsen substance use disorders and cause even more anxiety.

Get Help for Social Anxiety Disorder at Ripple Ranch

At Ripple Ranch, you are guaranteed a personalized treatment program to suit your needs. Treatment at Ripple Ranch uses a six-week process of evidence-based therapies and holistic healing techniques that have been proven by research to be the most effective.

We are always available to get down to the root cause of social anxiety and help change the negative thought patterns while developing confidence in social situations, especially the ones you fear the most, so you can thrive and succeed in the real world.

Reach Out Today

Don’t hesitate to contact us immediately if you have any concerns about social anxiety. Our team is eager to tell you more about what we have to offer and to assist you in developing the best effective care plan for you.