Co-Occurring Social Anxiety Disorder And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 26, 2021

Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that affects an estimated 15 million adults in the United States. Drug and alcohol abuse is common among people with social anxiety, and can become a risk factor for substance addiction.

Dual Diagnosis Social Anxiety Disorder And Addiction

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an intense and persistent fear of being judged or watched by others.

Anxiety about social situations and other people can cause some people to turn to unsupportive coping mechanisms, like drinking or drug use, to subdue their anxiety.

Drug and alcohol abuse affects millions of Americans, including people with social anxiety. The most effective way to treat both anxiety and addiction is through dual diagnosis treatment.

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, formerly known as social phobia, is a mental health condition that affects an estimated 15 million adults in the United States.

To be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, you must experience chronic symptoms of social anxiety for at least six months.

Signs and symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:

  • being very afraid of being judged by others
  • going to great lengths to avoid others
  • extreme self-consciousness in social situations
  • feeling nauseous or sick to your stomach around others
  • making little eye contact with others
  • finding it difficult to meet or talk to new people despite a desire to
  • experiencing panic attacks in social settings or at the thought of socializing
  • having difficulty sleeping as a result of anxiety or rumination

Chronic and intense social anxiety can affect a person’s work, school, and their ability to form and maintain new relationships. Without treatment, this can become debilitating for some people.

How Common Is Co-Occurring Social Anxiety And Addiction?

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 9.5 million people in the United States have both a mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD).

Research shows that an estimated 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder develop a drug or alcohol abuse problem at some point in their lives.

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Social anxiety typically precedes struggles with substance abuse and addiction. For many, drug and alcohol use can become a way to cope with or manage social anxiety.

Why Do People With Social Anxiety Turn To Drugs And Alcohol?

Social anxiety disorder can become debilitating. It can be very isolating, hurt self-esteem, reduce a person’s confidence, and make it difficult to function in everyday life.

Drugs and alcohol can be used to:

  • numb
  • reduce unease in social settings
  • self-medicate depression
  • cope with specific sources of stress

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol can also increase anxiety over time and lead to the development of a substance use disorder (SUD). This can worsen social anxiety and pose serious health risks.

Diagnosing Social Anxiety Disorder And Addiction

Both social anxiety disorder and substance use disorders have specific criteria a person must meet in order to receive a diagnosis.

Many clinicians will wait until some time after a person has fully detoxed and withdrawn from drugs or alcohol before diagnosing a mental health disorder.

A doctor can make a diagnosis of social anxiety and drug or alcohol use disorder based on:

  • medical history
  • mental health history
  • family history of illness
  • other factors

Treatment For Co-Occurring Social Anxiety And Substance Abuse

The most effective type of treatment for social anxiety and substance abuse is an integrated treatment program, such as dual diagnosis treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment may involve:

  • medically-supervised detox
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dual diagnosis group therapy
  • medication

Treating both social anxiety and substance abuse at the same time is important. Leaving one disorder untreated can increase the risk of relapse and fail to provide the support a person needs.

Overcoming social anxiety and addiction is possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with social anxiety and an alcohol or drug addiction, we may be able to help.

Dual diagnosis treatment may be offered by:

  • inpatient treatment centers
  • residential rehab centers
  • outpatient rehab centers
  • individual treatment providers

Call our helpline today to learn more about co-occurring disorders and to find a dual diagnosis treatment program for anxiety and addiction near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 26, 2021
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