Does Social Anxiety Cause Substance Abuse?

Discover what social anxiety is, how to manage it, and what treatment options are available in this informative article.

What Is Social Anxiety (Social Phobia)?

Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. Many may not even know they have this condition. Let’s define it for clarity.
Social Anxiety


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Social Anxiety Definition

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental disorder characterized by an intense and constant fear of being judged and noticed by others. This disorder can affect people’s day-to-day activities, work, and school. Those with a social anxiety disorder usually experience worry or fear in situations where they may be inspected, assessed, or criticized by others.  

How Common Is Social Anxiety?

Anxiety and depression are two of the most prevalent mental health problems in the United States, but anxiety problems outnumber depression. Anxiety is classified into five primary types—generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia. Social phobia is the most common subtype of anxiety disorder, affecting over fifteen million adults in the United States each year.

Social Anxiety vs. Introversion

Social phobia is distinct from introversion. To start, introversion is a personality trait, whereas social phobia is a mental condition. When introverts isolate themselves, it is usually for real enjoyment and self-care rather than self-protection. With social anxiety, avoiding social situations is motivated by fear, and staying alone is the only way to feel safe. Thus, introversion is associated with social energy, whereas social anxiety is a mental health issue associated with fear of social contact.  

Types of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder can be divided into generalized and non-generalized social anxiety disorder. Generalized social anxiety is characterized by fear of most social situations, while non-generalized social anxiety is characterized by fear of a limited range of social situations. 

Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety symptoms are divided into the following: 

Emotional Symptoms

Some of the common emotional symptoms of social anxiety include the following:
  • The constant concern of saying or doing something embarrassing
  • Fear that others would see their anguish and reject them as a result of it
  • A strong desire to avoid being the center of attention
  • Harsh self-evaluations after conversations or other contacts with individuals
  • Feelings of extreme embarrassment or inferiority in the presence of authority figures

Behavioral Symptoms

The following are some of the behavioral symptoms associated with social anxiety:

  • Avoiding tasks or activities out of fear of embarrassment
  • Not talking to people for fear of being negatively judged
  • Not making eye contact
  • Avoiding situations that may turn the focus or attention to them 

Physical Symptom

Below is a list of physical symptoms that are commonly seen and experienced in people with social phobia:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Blank stares
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Muscle tenseness 

Avoiding Common Social Situations

People with social anxiety always try to avoid common social situations. Some of these situations include:

  • Dating
  • Eating in public, such as going to restaurants
  • Interacting with strangers or unfamiliar people
  • Walking into a room where others are already seated
  • Using public restrooms
  • Attending social gatherings and parties 

Signs of Social Anxiety in Children

Children may show signs of social anxiety by:
  • Crying
  • Throwing tantrums
  • Clinging to parents when faced with other adults or their classmates
  • Refusing to speak in social circumstances

Social Anxiety Causes and Risk Factors

This section focuses on the causes of social anxiety, as well as the factors that can influence this mental condition.  

What Causes Social Anxiety?

Like many other mental disorders, social anxiety disorder is presumably caused by a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. Among the possible causes are:  

Genetic Traits

Anxiety disorders are often passed down from generation to generation. Studies have shown that higher rates of social anxiety are more prevalent in relatives with the disorder than those without it.2   

Structure of the Brain

The fear response starts in the amygdala, a structure in the brain. Therefore, anyone with an overactive amygdala may experience a heightened fear reaction, creating uneasiness in social situations.  


Aside from biological and genetic causes, social anxiety may also be a learned behavior. For example, some people develop severe anxiety following an uncomfortable or embarrassing social situation.  

Risk Factors

Several factors can contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder. They include: 

Family History

If social anxiety disorder runs in the family, the risk of developing it heightens.  

Adverse Life Events

Social anxiety may be linked to negative life events, such as family conflict, trauma, or abuse.  

Parenting Style

Social phobia may be influenced by parenting style. For instance, children may copy parents who model nervousness in social situations. In addition, people who were overly protected by their parents as children can develop social anxiety.  

The Relationship Between Social Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Social anxiety and substance abuse are often linked together, with social anxiety and alcoholism being two of the most prevalent co-occurring disorders. While substance abuse is one of the causes of social anxiety, it is more likely for social anxiety disorder to cause substance use disorder.  

Does Social Anxiety Cause Substance Abuse?

According to research, social anxiety disorder increases the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. With regards to abuse, data shows that those with social phobia are 1.2 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 1.7 times more likely to abuse drugs. Regarding dependency, those with social phobia are 2.7 times more likely to develop alcohol dependency and 4.5 times more likely to develop a drug dependency.3  

Co-occurring social anxiety and substance abuse can be detrimental to people’s health since substance abuse worsens social anxiety symptoms, and social anxiety increases the likelihood of self-medicating to relieve the symptoms.  

How Does Social Anxiety Cause Substance Abuse?

Living with social anxiety affects people’s daily lives, compelling them to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to alleviate their worry and fear and cope better in social situations. Because the effects of substances are just temporary, people may continue to take the substance to retain the anxiety-free sensation, eventually developing a substance use disorder.  

How to Overcome Social Anxiety

The following are a few ways to overcome social phobia: 

Educate Yourself

Gathering knowledge about social anxiety disorder can help people identify and better understand their symptoms. In addition, learning about the disorder might motivate people to make better decisions, seek help, and avoid substances as a coping mechanism. 


Communicating the symptoms and feelings to others can help ease some tension. There’s nothing wrong with admitting to being nervous. Approximately 12.1% of adults in America experience social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, so being open about it can create a more forgiving and understanding environment.4  

Know When to Seek Help

Social anxiety can overtake and consume people’s lives, so it is vital to know when to seek help. Confiding in trusted individuals or contacting a mental health professional is a great step to improving social anxiety symptoms. Support and assistance from loved ones and professionals can be beneficial in learning how to cope with social anxiety symptoms healthily.  

Avoid Relying on Drugs or Alcohol

Alcohol or drugs will only worsen the disorder, hindering recovery. Social phobia can be quite crippling, and relying on substances can worsen symptoms and increase the chances of developing an addiction. Thus, it is important to contact a professional for help.  

Take Time to Relax

Get enough rest, read inspirational books, spend time in nature, and practice self-care. Psychotherapy can teach how to change thought patterns into more positive ones and improve mental health.  

Treatment for Social Anxiety

If social anxiety begins to take over and affect daily life, professional help can be a very valuable tool.  

Social Anxiety

How to Treat Social Anxiety

There are several ways to go about treating social anxiety. They include the following:


Social anxiety treatment is best carried out through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This psychotherapeutic approach works by helping individuals change the negative thought patterns that cause anxiety and help them adopt an objective and realistic way of thinking.


Another social anxiety treatment approach is through the use of medications prescribed by psychiatrists. Some FDA-approved social anxiety medications include sertraline, paroxetine, and extended-release venlafaxine.

Support Groups

Social anxiety support groups bring people together in a safe environment to learn from one another and find the strength to overcome the disorder.  

Get Help for Social Anxiety at Concise Recovery

Our licensed psychologists and medical professionals at Concise Recovery work closely with patients to develop individualized treatment plans to determine the root cause of mental health issues, such as social anxiety, to develop individualized treatment plans. In addition, they work to identify risk factors, provide therapy sessions, and offer support throughout the entire process to ensure a healthy and successful treatment.

Consultations can be done online or in person, depending on your preference. Contact us today at Concise Recovery to get started.