Everyone feels a little nervous when meeting new people, but social anxiety is much more than feeling a bit anxious in public spaces. Feeling shy usually goes away once you meet people or have a great conversation. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) causes heightened self-consciousness and an intense fear of being negatively judged by others.
It’s almost impossible to turn off invasive, negative thoughts when you have social anxiety. This form of fear can impact every aspect of your life, professionally and socially. Many use alcohol or drugs to feel comfortable in their skin. Sadly, this can lead to an alcohol use disorder.
Like any mental health condition, there are ways to overcome SAD without alcohol and drugs. With the right tools and mindset, you’ll be prepared to tackle your sobriety and your anxiety.
The Link Between Social Anxiety and Drinking
Millions of people struggle with social anxiety. The physical, emotional and mental side effects of SAD can cause you to feel shaky, nauseous or light-headed. If you’re constantly afraid of embarrassing yourself in public, you may believe anything is better than those intense fears. Alcohol and drugs are common ways for people with social anxiety to handle their condition. They use these substances to mask their feelings and the physical side effects that come along with them. Studies find that around one-fifth of individuals who live with social anxiety disorder also live with an alcohol use disorder. Around 15% of those treated for alcoholism live with both disorders as well. This comorbidity is becoming more common as more studies take a closer look at social anxiety as a disorder in it’s own right.
Does Alcohol Make You Feel Relaxed and Confident?
Many people enjoy alcohol because it seems to reduce stress, so those with social anxiety feel more relaxed in social situations after drinking. Does alcohol help with anxiety? Alcohol’s ability to inhibit impulse control can also give you a boost of confidence.
These effects, however, are temporary. While it may seem to relieve your social anxiety, alcohol cannot resolve the source of your fears. Once the effects wear off, your anxiety returns with a vengeance. This back-and-forth leads many people to create an unhealthy cycle of substance abuse for that momentary feeling of comfort.
If you combine social anxiety and alcohol and begin to exhibit some of the following symptoms, you may suffer from an alcohol use disorder:
- Your work or school life feels impacted
- You’re unable to stop drinking once you’ve started
- You feel the need to drink first thing in the morning
- Your drinking has resulted in hurting others
- You feel guilt or remorse after drinking
How to Overcome Social Anxiety Without Alcohol or Drugs
If you realize that your alcohol use has become a problem, then it’s time to adopt some skills that may help you overcome social anxiety without drinking or using drugs. In the past, you might have used alcohol to get through social gatherings or events. However, there are ways to cope in these settings without resorting to substance use:
- Take a moment to calm yourself and relax. Sometimes stepping outside to get some air or just removing yourself from the situation for a moment can make an enormous difference when it comes to coping with social anxiety.
- Practice deep breathing or mindfulness meditation to reduce stress and prevent panic. If you’re unsure where to start, consider downloading an app for your phone so you always have someone to talk you through some breathing exercises in your pocket.
- Don’t try to fix all your issues at once — instead, set reasonable expectations and focus on small achievable goals. Use the acronym SMART when setting goals. Make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
- Instead of obsessing over what others think of you, ask questions to shift the focus of the conversation to them. Learning how to direct, if not control, the conversation can help you stay more comfortable, even in awkward situations. It can take practice, but it’s a valuable skill to learn to help you manage social anxiety without the need for alcohol or drugs.
- Avoid places that serve alcohol. If that isn’t an option due to the chosen venue or other people enjoying a few drinks, you can often tell the bartender that you’re a designated driver. This will keep them from serving you drinks and, in some venues, may even net you some free sodas or waters as a thank you for being responsible.
- Spend time with people who understand that you struggle with alcohol. We realize that alcohol plays an enormous role in modern social interactions and it’s often impossible to avoid gatherings where drinking is either optional or expected. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family that understand what you’re going through instead of those that will pressure you to drink.
- Accept all the small mistakes that make you human, and try to understand that people don’t expect you to be perfect.
Finding Sobriety and Overcoming Anxiety Is Possible
If you struggle with substance abuse rooted in social anxiety, holistic treatment is available at Gateway. We take the time to understand the triggers contributing to your alcoholism or drug use to create an individualized holistic approach to your care.