Substance Abuse and Social Anxiety

Contributed By: Bethany Winkel is a freelance writer who specializes in topics related to drug and alcohol addiction and recovery. Bethany is a writer for My Recovery Helper, a free web-based treatment referral service.

neural-pathways-221718_640For many people, drug and alcohol consumption often goes hand-in-hand with social settings.

It is usually not a problem for someone in moderation and complete control to have a drink or two when out with friends. But for many people, social interactions cause a great deal of stress, and alcohol or drug use becomes a necessity because of that anxiety.

Living with a Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorders are becoming more commonly diagnosed in America today. You might think of someone with social anxiety as someone who has trouble going out with friends, but this issue usually extends into the person’s every day life as well. They may have trouble interacting with people at work, at the store, or on the phone. Living with a social anxiety disorder can be crippling, and it keeps many people from doing the things they want to do.

Many people who struggle with social anxiety self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Having a drink can help calm their nerves, allow them to relax, and enjoy the company of others. However, using substances to feel better about one’s self is never a good idea. Drug and alcohol use in these circumstances can quickly turn to addiction, as the person begins to rely on the substance to function socially.

Occurrence of Social Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders

man-568389_640Using substances to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety can be dangerous, and can lead to a lifetime of addiction. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of Americai, someone with anxiety disorders is 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.

About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder.

Substance use and mental health disorders often trap a person in a vicious cycle, as each one makes the symptoms of the other more unmanageable over time.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Are you struggling with social anxiety? Do you feel like the only way to manage it is with drugs or alcohol? If you are like the many that are living with anxiety and substance addiction, there is hope for you.

You do not have to live in dread of interacting with others. You do not have to let your addiction control you any longer. Treatment is available, but you must find the right kind of help for it to be effective.

Treatment for any kind of mental health disorder that occurs with substance addiction must address both diseases concurrently. Because social anxiety disorders and substance use disorders so closely impact and contribute to each other, one cannot be completely healed by itself.

Therapies for Co-Occurring Disorders

man-556946_640Treatment for co-occurring disorders involves managing the cravings for the substance, helping provide psychological healing, and preparing the individual for a life without substances. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very effective because they help the individual change their thinking patterns, and identify and modify negative thought processes.

As the person gets control of their drug or alcohol use, therapists will help them understand the reasons they started using substances in the first place and how that made their mental health issue worse.

The first step is to ask for help. Talk to your doctor about your concerns, or find a treatment program that can offer help for dual-diagnosis. Whatever you do, don’t try to hide your feelings and struggles. With the right kind of help, you can be on your way to a happier, healthier life.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one suffered from social anxiety and addiction? What tools have you learned to cope with this disorder in recovery?



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 18th, 2015
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