Social anxiety and alcohol abuse

Social anxiety and alcohol abuse

One of the big issues with social anxiety is that it often goes undiagnosed, as people think that their anxiety around social situations is normal, or that it is too minor a problem to go to the doctor about. A person that has not being diagnosed therefore cannot seek treatment. This often leads to a problem where individuals self-medicate for the anxiety they feel, often in the form of alcohol and other substances. 

In my teenager years and the start of my twenties, I wasn’t really aware of my social anxiety and I would often drink far too much when I was going out to social events. This was due to the fact I felt that I could not actually go to the social event without having a drink beforehand to “prepare”. If a group of friends were drinking before the event, I would have to have a drink before, the drink before, the event (hope you’re still following).  

It wasn’t just me who did this. Most of my friends insist on drinking in the house before any social event. Most of them just do this because it’s cheaper, but a handful of others admit they do this because they feel they need to, in order to become more comfortable about heading out to a room full of people. There is a kind of culture of feeling like we aren’t effectively equipped to handle a night out without an extra confidence boost to make it through the door. I had not thought about pre-drinking (as we call it) in this way until it had been mentioned to me, but it does make a whole lot of sense. 

It wasn’t just pre-drinking that I would drink far too much at either. When I went to clubs and bars, I would also start to drink too much, in order to be able to speak with people without that constant second guessing going on in my head. However, this nearly always backfired in the end. As the next day I would have my normal anxiety times ten reliving the horror of how I embarrassed myself in conversations with different people, when remembering it through a sober mind.  On top of this, as the alcohol leaves our system the next day, dopamine levels come back down, which can affect our mood and make our anxiety levels worse (I know, very scientific, thank you).  

I remember my mum used to tell me “you’re anxious because you drink so much” and I used to reply with “No, I drink so much because I’m anxious.” We could never agree on that one, our own special version of the ‘which came first the chicken or the egg?’ conundrum.  The truth is though that it’s a cycle, alcohol both eliminates and creates anxiety, they feed each other. 

I feel like a lot of people with social anxiety are in this same position with regards to alcohol. It is an easy solution, that is very tempting when it can act as a quick fix to all the negative feelings and thoughts we are experiencing. However, it is important to remember that this is all it is, a quick fix. In the long run it will most definitely make anxiety worse, not to mention using it to self-medicate in this way can make it easy to fall into a cycle of dependency. 

When you find yourself drinking far too much very often, it may be helpful to consider this in relation to anxiety and how the two may be interconnected. I didn’t explore this link for a very long time, but once I did I realised that the issue wasn’t necessarily with alcohol, but with anxiety. Leading me to become able to separate the two and find actual solutions for coping with my anxious feelings. 

Intrusive thoughts: My experience with the less well known side of OCD

The countless number of times I’ve told one of my friends I suffer from OCD and they reply with ‘but how can you have OCD when your bedroom is such a mess?’ It echoes the common misconception that OCD is solely about having to be clean and tidy, which it isn’t at all. Nobody ever really pays attention to the other aspects of OCD such as intrusive thoughts. There are never really any platforms that speak about it brutally honestly (that I have found). It’s not discussed the way other mental illnesses are over social media, that slowly make them lose their stigma. There are seldom documentaries or main characters  on TV with the illness unless it is solely to capitalise off the fascination with a person who compulsively cleans. The term OCD is thrown around a lot when things aren’t matching or symmetrical but what are the lesser known aspects of the illness, such as intrusive thoughts, really like? and how can we deal with them?

Obviously there are many aspects of OCD, but I want to focus on intrusive thoughts in this piece. Repetitive compulsions are annoying and tiresome and embarrassing but the intrusive thoughts are what really scare the shit out of me. For years I would have these horrible weird thoughts in my mind and I would think ‘I’m a fucking lunatic, if people knew what I was thinking I’d be locked up’ and so I never told anybody, I let them eat away, panic and scare me for years. I let them ruin activities that I couldn’t take part in without having these horrible destructive thoughts be triggered. Even now as  someone who is aware that they are just thoughts and I don’t actually mean them, that they’re a symptom of an illness I have, they still drive me into an absolute panic at times.

I remember when I first found out there was a term for these thoughts and googled it, to my surprise I came across a forum where somebody had one of the exact same thoughts as mine, and on further research found this to be the highest type of disturbing thought people experienced. The relief of knowing I wasn’t crazy felt so amazing, I could finally calm down, let these thoughts stop ruling my life. It’s easier said than done and in extremely panic ridden times of my life they still pop up and I find it hard to get them away. However I have found a couple of ways to tackle them and hopefully if you’re experiencing these thoughts they may help you too:

1) Acknowledging the thought: ignoring it just makes you think it more, and it just keeps growing into this unavoidable thing, try telling yourself; this is just a thought I am having, this isn’t who I am, this is my illness, this will go away I am in control of my own thoughts.

2) Remember you’re not the only one who has these feelings: One of the worst things about these thoughts is you feel like you’re alone and crazy for thinking them. But you’re not. There are plenty of other people, even people who don’t have OCD, that experience intrusive thoughts from time to time. If you’re worrying that you’re alone, that you’re the only person who this happens to and you’re in some way going crazy- you’re not.

3)Sharing this is happening with someone: I know this is easier said than done when you’re having disturbing thoughts that you don’t even want to admit to yourself you’re having, but telling a trusted friend or family member really helps. Being alone with the thought is what makes it seem bigger and worse. Even if you don’t want to tell the exact details of what the thought is- just tell someone you are having a bad intrusive thought and if you want to vaguely tell them about what it is you can. You’re in control of what you tell people, but even sharing that you are having the thought can bring the anxiety down and make you feel a little calmer.

These are the things that usually make me feel a bit better, I’m not a doctor and this might not work for you, but I feel like any shared knowledge on this subject is beneficial.

I wanted to share my experience and tips as a way of attempting to open some kind of conversation around the subject. It is not something that people openly and honestly discuss in the same way as other mental health issues, mostly in the fear of being ridiculed or shamed by these horrible thoughts. But the main thing to remember is this is an illness, many people suffer from these thoughts, you are not crazy and you are not alone.

I’m new here

This blog is about my experiences, observations and tales as an anxious 20 something navigating life. My posts are not always going to be serious, infact most of them won’t be. My day to day struggle with anxiety often leads me into situations that are more like something off a sketch show than a mental illness support group.  

I want to share my experiences with other people in the hope that I can start a conversation on what it’s really like to deal with anxiety and OCD as a young person starting off in adulthood. I also want to share my tips and tricks that I’ve learned on the way. Although some of my posts may just be mild observations that I’ve made or weird situations that my anxiety have led me into, that I feel people may be able to relate to/ laugh at. 

This blog is welcome to anyone who feels they have something to add on the subject, feel free to comment, email, get in touch or whatever with your own trips and tricks! The more we talk about this stuff the easier it gets to navigate in our everyday lives! 

If this website does nothing else, at least it shows we’re not all on this excruciating journey of rehearsing our food orders over and over before ordering and counting our change 30 times before we get on the bus, alone!