Do you often experience crippling fear in social situations? If yes, you may have social anxiety disorder (SAD). Social anxiety is an intense fear of being judged, embarrassed, or rejected in a social situation.
It can cause debilitating physical symptoms that interfere with daily life. These include:
- Racing heart
- Sweating and trembling
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty speaking
An estimated 15 million American adults have social anxiety at any given time, translating to around 7.1 percent of the population. People with social anxiety often have a hard time seeking help for their disorder because they fear judgment from others. This fear can prevent them from seeking treatment, which can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety.
What Causes Social Anxiety?
The exact cause of social anxiety is unknown, but family history is thought to play a role. Other potential triggers include:
- Family dynamics
- Poor parenting styles
- Low self-esteem
- Substance abuse
- Past trauma or negative experiences, such as bullying or ridicule
- Poor temperament
- Having a condition or appearance that draws attention, such as stammering or facial disfigurement
The Relationship Between Social Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder
SAD often co-occurs with substance use disorder (SUD). In fact, research shows that those with SAD are up to 4.5 times more likely than those without SAD to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 6.5 times more likely to develop a cannabis dependence.
There are a few theories as to why social anxiety and substance use disorder often go hand-in-hand. One possible explanation is that those with SAD turn to substance use in an attempt to numb their feelings and overcome their anxiety. For others, substance use serves as a social lubricant, making it easier to interact with others.
Unfortunately, while substance use may offer temporary relief from social anxiety, it often leads to further problems down the road. Not to mention, once someone has developed a SUD treating both disorders becomes even more complicated.
People with SUDs are also more likely to experience depression and other mental health disorders, which can further complicate treatment, increase symptom chronicity, and significantly lower quality of life.
Can Substance Abuse Cause Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety often precedes substance use disorder in most comorbid SAD and SUD cases. However, substance abuse can also lead to social anxiety. This is because some substances, such as alcohol and marijuana, can affect brain structure and function, potentially leading to anxiety.
The guilt, shame, and fear of the social stigma associated with substance abuse can also cause or exacerbate symptoms of social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a debilitating mental health disorder that can have far-reaching consequences if left untreated, one of which is an increased risk for substance abuse. As such, early medical intervention is critical to prevent any potential complications.
It is also important to recognize that substance abuse can cause or worsen social anxiety. But with the right treatment plan, it is possible to manage both conditions and lead a healthy and fulfilling life. Treatment for comorbid social anxiety and substance use disorder involves a combination of talk therapy and medication – coupled with lifestyle changes to reduce stress and promote healthy coping strategies.