The relationship between social anxiety and alcohol abuse

Across the world there is a huge correlation between social anxiety and alcohol consumption. Social anxiety is a disorder which is also known as SAD. This disorder is a type of anxiety which only occurs in social settings, for example, the feared situations can include almost any social circumstance, ranging from interpersonal social interactions in small groups to talking to strangers. People with social anxiety disorder either avoid feared social situations altogether or experience them with extreme anxiety. According to, there is a 20% chance of suffering with alcohol abuse if you suffer with social anxiety. There is around 7% of the US population who suffer from SAD, which makes it one of the most common mental health disorders.

Often people will use alcohol to try to combat social anxiety, this is sometimes referred to as “liquid courage.” They start to drink to try to manage these inner feelings. The substance can often give the individual confidence to feel more comfortable and be able to act more freely in these situations.

Over time, using drinking as a remedy to cope with SAD can progress into a drinking problem. Habits develop and things can take a downward spiral quickly. Excessive drinking can have severe negative impacts on your life, including personal relationships, work or school life and in some cases problems with the law.

Although alcohol may seem to temporarily reduce symptoms of social anxiety, alcohol can actually exacerbate symptoms of the disorder within just a few hours of consumption such as anxiety, irritability, and depression.

  • Difficulty talking or interacting with others
  • Fear of judgment
  • Avoidance of social interactions
  • Nausea, trembling, and light-headedness around others
  • Excessive worrying about social events
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • High levels of self-consciousness in the presence of others
  • Enduring social situations with intense fear or anxiety
  • Trouble with concentration
  • Constant self-analysis of performance in social situations

Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms you experience. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
  • Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it's causing physical, social, work or relationship problems
  • Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies to use alcohol
  • Using alcohol in situations where it's not safe, such as when driving or swimming
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don't drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms

It is most common that those who are diagnosed with SAD first will then develop an alcohol abuse problem.

As these are two co-occurring disorders the treatment options available are usually a mixture. Both disorders must be treated to be successful. By purely treating one of the disorders, for example, alcohol, it will not help with an individual’s inner social fears and issues. Therefore, the person is more likely to relapse. If it’s vis-versa and you only treat the social anxiety it is not likely to help prevent the excessive drinking that has developed.

Some people with social anxiety, however, find AA meetings and other support groups to be too anxiety-provoking. Working one-on-one with a doctor or therapist with experience in treating anxiety disorders may be best and can help the individual prepare to successfully participate in an alcohol treatment program at a later time.

Cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational enhancement therapy are considered to be the most promising approaches for treatment of the co-occurring disorders.

It is important to find a treatment plan which is designed to help deal with both disorders. For more information on this please contact our friendly treatment advisors who are more than happy to help find the perfect treatment plan for the individual’s needs.

If any of the issues in this blog post have raised concerns, please do not hesitate to contact our treatment advisors for help and advice.