Most of us have used alcohol to relax in a social situation at one time or another. And for many people, ordering a beer at the bar is one of the first things they do at a social event.
In moderation, social drinking is generally nothing to worry about. But for people with social anxiety, things can get a bit more complicated.
It turns out that social anxiety and alcohol misuse have a close relationship. In fact, up to 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Many more fall into a gray area, and would like to drink less than they do on social occasions.
If this sounds like you, rest assured that you’re in good company. Below, we’ll look into why people with social anxiety might drink more, and offer some tips for coping without alcohol.
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Why Do People Drink To Deal With Social Anxiety?
As with other forms of anxiety, many people find that drinking alcohol helps take the edge off, and allows them to unwind a bit. Since alcohol is often present at social events to begin with, it’s also easy to get into the habit of seeking out some “liquid courage” when you first arrive—especially if you feel uncomfortable in social situations.
Research supports a strong link between social stress and drinking—particularly among college-aged women. However, researchers have also called into question whether alcohol really helps stress, or if it actually makes things worse.
Does Alcohol Really Help Social Anxiety?
Although using alcohol may seem like a good way to cope with social anxiety, it turns out to have the opposite effect in some situations. For starters, alcohol addiction and anxiety often go hand in hand, and seem to have a “chicken vs egg” relationship. In other words, while drinking may soothe anxiety in the moment, it may actually cause anxiety in the long term.
Then, there’s alcohol and stress. Just like anxiety, drinking may actually worsen a person’s stress response in the long run. And for some socially anxious people, using alcohol might make stress worse in the moment as well—making them more self-conscious and nervous.
Finally, it’s well-established that frequent excessive drinking, particularly to cope with negative emotions, can lead to alcohol dependence. All in all, while drinking may seem like a quick fix for social anxiety, the cons far outweigh the pros. But, if you often find yourself intensely anxious in social situations, what are your other options?
6 Tips for Dealing With Social Anxiety Without Alcohol
Each person will find that different strategies work best for them. However, overcoming social anxiety generally involves a combination of education and exposure. This means working to understand what triggers your anxiety, developing awareness around it, and then gradually exposing yourself to situations that frighten you to become more accustomed to them.
Here are some tips to help you work through this process:
1. Practice Positive Self-Talk
Often, social anxiety is linked to negative expectations about an event, or a negative assessment of one’s coping skills. Try writing down some phrases that you find encouraging, such as, “I am capable and I can do this,” or, “I am valuable no matter what others think of me,” and repeat these to yourself when you’re feeling anxious. Over time, persistent positive self-talk can help you adjust your mindset.
2. Find Some Relaxation Techniques
We know—this is a lot easier said than done in the moment. But learning some strategies to relax ahead of time can help you anchor yourself in social situations. Try techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), counting breaths, or deep breathing. This can help relieve tension when surrounded by people you might not know very well, or have just met.
3. Develop a Mindfulness Practice
Along with learning relaxation techniques, a regular mindfulness practice can make it easier to redirect your thoughts in stressful situations. Whether it’s meditating every day for a few minutes, taking a yoga class, or making use of a mindfulness app, there are many ways to incorporate this practice into your daily life and reap the benefits.
4. Take a Break From Events Involving Alcohol
If you’re trying to break the habit of drinking to deal with social anxiety, it can also help to simply take a break from places and situations that involve alcohol. Consider joining meetup groups related to your interests, or taking up a hobby that connects you with others. You may even find that bonding with people who share common interests without alcohol makes it easier to overcome your social anxiety.
5. Look For Some Support
Some people with social anxiety benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor. There are also a number of self-help books, audio programs, and apps that can help you learn new habits or overcome social anxiety. Finding a support system can give you some structure, help you identify which situations challenge you most, and break things down into achievable steps.
6. Get Help for Social Drinking
If you find that drinking to deal with social anxiety is a pattern for you, and that it’s hard to stop at one drink, there are new forms of help available. Not everyone who drinks problematically is an alcoholic, and not everyone who over-drinks socially needs to quit completely.
Telemedicine programs like Ria Health can give you the tools to reset your relationship with alcohol 100 percent online. From coaches who specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy, to anti-craving medications, we support each member in reaching their own unique goals.