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.