Social Anxiety and Alcoholism -

Social Anxiety and Alcoholism

Social Anxiety and Alcoholism

Clinically Reviewed By Daniel Callahan MSW, CAP
Author: Editorial Team
Updated On

Millions of people continue to fight an uphill battle against alcohol abuse and alcoholism. While some are able to look at the past and pinpoint where their problem started, others are unsure of what led them down this path.

While it may not always be the case, most people place some blame for their drinking problem on social anxiety.

It is difficult for some people to understand, but social anxiety is a major health problem that affects many people throughout the world.

Here are some statistics shared by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):

  • Approximately 15 million American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder
  • 36 percent of people with this problem have symptoms for 10 years or longer before seeking medical assistance
  • The typical age of onset is 13 years old

These statistics alone show just how serious social anxiety has become. Not only can this keep people away from social situations, but it can lead them to trouble, such as an addiction to alcohol. In some cases, a person realizes the only way they can communicate in a social setting is if they are drinking. For this reason, they continue to turn to alcohol, time and time again. Before they know it, this has developed into another problem in the form of an addiction.

Here are some additional facts from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America regarding all types of anxiety:

  • Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in the United States.
  • All types of anxiety disorders are treatable, however, only roughly 33 percent seek professional treatment.
  • In the United States alone, anxiety disorders cost the country more than $40 billion per year.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a variety of risk factors, including but not limited to brain chemistry, genetics, life events, and personality.

Note: many people who suffer from an anxiety disorder also have issues with depression.

Social Anxiety

Now that you have a better understanding of the facts associated with anxiety as a whole, let’s take a closer look at the finer details associated with social anxiety disorder.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines social anxiety disorder as follows:

“Social phobia is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. This fear can be so strong that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing other everyday things.”

Along with the above, here are some additional stats associated with social anxiety:

  • This disorder is equally common among women and men.
  • There are many symptoms that can trigger social anxiety, such as: being introduced to new people, being the center of attention, having to speak in public, and being watched while doing something.

The definition of social anxiety, as defined by the Social Anxiety Institute, is as follows:

Social anxiety is the fear of  interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.”

To show just how big of a problem this has become, the Social Anxiety Institute notes that this is the third largest mental health care problem in the United States. It is estimated that approximately seven percent of the population struggles with some form of social anxiety.

The Bridge

What does this have to do with alcohol use and alcoholism? In short, people with social anxiety are always searching for an answer. Rather than turn to a medical professional, somebody who may be able to help them better deal with the problem, they rely on the use of alcohol. By drinking, these people no longer feel the anxiety associated with being in a social situation. Since this solves their problem, even if only for the short term, they continue to turn to this “solution” time after time.

A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, entitled “Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Use,” examined the connection between this mental health disorder and alcoholism.

The most telling statistic from the study is as follows: approximately one-fifth of patients with social anxiety disorder also struggle with an alcohol use disorder, such as dependence or abuse.

The Theory on the Connection

The study goes on to provide a theory on the connection:

“One theory to explain the comorbidity between social anxiety disorder and AUDs is the tension reduction theory, which posits that people with social anxiety use alcohol to alleviate their fears. This expectation that alcohol reduces anxiety may motivate alcohol consumption even if pharmacological studies do not support that assumption.”

How to Know if it’s a Problem

Most people who suffer from social anxiety disorder are aware that this is a problem that has altered their life in many ways. Here are some of the ways to pinpoint if you also suffer from alcoholism:

  • Drink alcohol on a regular basis to cope with problems, stress, and anxiety
  • Not able to stop drinking despite your best efforts
  • Need a drink in the early morning hours to feel better about your day
  • Feel guilty after you drink too much

Treatment Options

Even though social anxiety disorder is a big problem for those dealing with it, there are treatment options available to help control the situation and hopefully put it in the past:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy is a type of psychotherapy that has been proven effective in treating social anxiety. It teaches a person how to think and behave differently, allowing them to feel less anxious in social situations.
  • Some doctors believe in prescribing medication to help treat social anxiety disorder. Most commonly, these include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors have been proven especially effective in treating this medical condition.

It is hard for some people to believe that social anxiety disorder is such a major problem, but these facts and stats should help you understand how serious it has become in the United States.

If you suffer from both social anxiety disorder and alcoholism, it is often times best to check into a rehab facility that offers dual diagnosis treatment. This will ensure that you are treated for both issues, not just one.

Those who attempt to treat alcoholism, without realizing that social anxiety disorder is just as big a problem, will likely slip back to their old ways. Treating both issues in full and at the same time improves the chance of long term success.

Social anxiety disorder can lead people to a life of drinking and/or drug abuse. If alcoholism comes into play, seeking professional treatment is often times the best solution.


Looking for addiction treatment?  Visit the top treatment centers in the USA page.

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Reviewer Daniel Callahan MSW, CAP
Clinically Reviewed By Editorial Team
Updated On

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