Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, with more than 40 million people currently diagnosed with one. Social anxiety is one of the most diagnosed types of anxiety disorder and those who are living with it can experience a plethora of challenges. Thankfully, however, social anxiety disorder can be treated.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder where a person fears social interaction to a point where his or her life is impacted by it. Social anxiety is not just nervousness that someone experiences before interacting with others—it is something that is highly crippling and painful to deal with.
According to the Social Anxiety Association, people with social anxiety are aware that the phobias they experience in relation to interaction with others are irrational and unreasonable. However, because this mental illness is chronic, the anxiety continues unless professional treatment is obtained.
The Social Anxiety Association also outlines the most common situations and occurrences that trigger a person’s anxiety. They include, but certainly are not limited to, the following:
- Being introduced to others
- Getting teased
- Receiving criticism
- Public speaking
- Making phone calls
- Being the center of attention
- Meeting people who hold positions of authority (police officers, politicians)
- Being watched while doing something
Physical and emotional symptoms
When in one of these triggering situations, the symptoms that a person with social anxiety disorder can experience include:
- Heart palpitations
- “Fight or flight” feeling
- Blushing or breaking out in hives
- Feeling dizzy
- Breathing rapidly
- Upset stomach
- Needing to urinate frequently
There is a major misconception about people with social anxiety disorder, as some of those who do not understand this mental illness think the person is being “dramatic” or “childish.” Many times, the behaviors that someone with social anxiety disorder exhibits can seem irrational and “strange” to the naked eye. But, social anxiety disorder is a diagnosable mental illness.
Some of the behaviors that someone with social anxiety can exhibit include:
- Excessively worrying about a scheduled social interaction before it is set to happen
- Intense fear of having to talk with others
- Hiding behind a loved one when in a social setting
- Spending a significant amount of time ruminating about how he or she appeared to others after a social interaction
- Avoiding social situations, even those that are of high importance (weddings, funerals, work conferences)
When someone with social anxiety disorder is not receiving the appropriate treatment for this condition, he or she can take it upon themselves to manage their symptoms. Unfortunately, it is very common for people to turn to the use of drugs and alcohol to do this.
How is Social Anxiety a Trigger for Substance Abuse?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also experience an alcohol or other substance use disorder. It is no coincidence that rates of substance abuse among this population are this high, as living with the symptoms of social anxiety disorder can be extremely difficult and highly triggering.
The vast majority of individuals with social anxiety disorder begin drinking alcohol or doing drugs to help make their social interactions less overwhelming and panic-provoking. For many people, the need to drink or use drugs becomes a requirement in order to interact with others.
Unfortunately, when this develops into a regular behavioral pattern, dependence can occur. Dependence refers to when a person is unable to stop using addictive substances without experiencing upsetting withdrawal symptoms. For those with social anxiety disorder, what was once just an anxiety disorder can quickly turn into a much larger problem.
When a substance use disorder develops alongside a social anxiety disorder, the symptoms of both conditions can become more severe and greater in number. Nearly all addictive substances can produce symptoms of anxiety both when under the influence and when sobering up. Now, not only is the social anxiety disorder causing feelings of panic and fear, but so is the substance use disorder. The internal chaos that this creates can keep individuals trapped in a dangerous, anxiety-filled cycle that is highly toxic and now potentially deadly.
The desire or need to use drugs or drink before interacting with others is not the only way that social anxiety disorder triggers people to use. While it is certainly the most common, other factors associated with social anxiety disorder can trigger substance abuse, including the following:
- Stress related to financial problems stemming from poor work performance or inability to show up to interviews to gain employment
- Feelings of loneliness and sadness associated with the struggle to interact with others
- Boredom that results from withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities/not participating in activities that bring fulfillment
- Physical exhaustion caused by excessive worrying
- Psychological turmoil stemming from the intense fear, concern, and worry that is constantly occurring
People with social anxiety disorder are constantly faced with obstacles that keep them from achieving their goals and dreams. When substance abuse is added to the mix, those goals and dreams can get much farther away. The good news is that treatment is available and effective.
When a person with social anxiety disorder obtains treatment for this condition, he or she can learn how to avoid triggers to use, how to approach social situations that might make them uncomfortable, and how to strike a positive balance in their life that supports their social wellness as well as their psychological health.
Do You Need Professional Help? Reach Out to Us
Living with untreated social anxiety disorder can be absolutely crushing. It can keep you from living a full, happy life free of fear of social situations. When social anxiety takes control of your life, you can feel hopeless and think your future is anything but dark and depressing. At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, we can help you learn how to manage your social anxiety disorder and any other issues such as substance use disorder.
So, do not allow another minute to go by without reaching out for the help you deserve. Call us right now. We can help.