It is estimated that on any given year, anywhere from 2 to 13 percent of the US population are affected by Social Anxiety Disorder – the excessive fear of social situations. Of that group, 20 percent are reported to suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.

Many people experience social anxiety. Anyone who’s suffered from it can understand the often overwhelming weight it can place on a person and their ability to function in the real world. Whether mild or severe – social anxiety not only affects a person’s mood, but the decisions they make in their lives. This can range from avoiding classes that might require an oral presentation, to accepting jobs beneath their ability so they can work alone, to even turning down promotions simply to avoid increased social demands. For many people suffering from social anxiety, life is carefully coordinated around fear, even at the cost of social isolation and less financial independence.

Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety

The National Institutes of Mental Health notes that people with social anxiety may:

  • Be very anxious about being with other people and have a hard time talking to them, even though they wish they could
  • Be very self-conscious in front of other people and feel embarrassed
  • Be very afraid that other people will judge them
  • Worry for days or weeks before an event where other people will be
  • Stay away from places where there are other people
  • Have a hard time making friends and keeping friends
  • Blush, sweat, or tremble around other people
  • Feel nauseous or sick to their stomach when with other people.

It’s been observed that social anxiety frequently accompanies substance abuse, as many social anxiety sufferers may try to self-medicate their condition. For many, alcohol can seem like a quick-fix to reduce stress and anxiety in social situations; however, like most quick-fixes, alcohol can end up doing profoundly more harm than good. It temporarily alleviates one problem by creating a completely new problem – alcohol dependency.

Is Your Drinking Becoming a Problem?

Alcoholics Anonymous lists twelve questions that can help you determine whether you might have a problem with alcohol; answering “yes” to 4+ of the following questions suggests you may need help to stop drinking.

  • Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
  • Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking– stop telling you what to do?
  • Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
  • Have you had to have an eye-opener (morning drink) upon awakening during the past year?
  • Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
  • Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
  • Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
  • Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
  • Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don’t mean to?
  • Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
  • Do you have “blackouts”?
  • Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?

Here’s the truth – Social anxiety is stressful, but it’s manageable; in many cases, symptoms can even disappear completely. Alcohol can seem like a quick solution, but it’s destructive; you can’t solve one problem by creating another. There are many sources of professional and effective help available. Alcoholics Anonymous, and other group therapy options are available to bring people together who share a similar struggle. For people with mild social anxiety, simply attending meetings can slowly raise their confidence in a safe environment. If meetings are too overwhelming, talk to your doctor about treating your social anxiety, and remain open to possible alcohol treatment down the road.