What Is Social Anxiety Disorder and Does It Tie into Addiction?
Shyness, especially in unfamiliar settings or around strangers, is perfectly natural. For millions of Americans, however, social discomfort is not a matter of shyness? but a matter of mental illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, close to 15 million Americans currently struggle with social anxiety disorder.
Unfortunately, more than a third of those Americans put off seeking treatment for a social anxiety disorder for a decade or longer. Both a lack of information about social anxiety disorder and the symptoms of the illness can make it extremely difficult for those struggling with the disorder to get the help they need.
For individuals with a social anxiety disorder, everyday interactions with others are a major challenge. In many cases, these symptoms make it impossible for untreated individuals to live out a normal life. In other cases, the symptoms are made even more debilitating due to the individual’s abuse of alcohol or drugs.
A stronger understanding of the disorder, its symptoms and risk factors will aid individuals, as well as their loved ones, in getting necessary treatment.
Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder
An individual with social anxiety disorder is likely to feel fear in all types of social situations, even during everyday events such as talking in class or having to meet with a supervisor. When placed in an unfamiliar setting, a person with social anxiety disorder is constantly wracked with the fear of being judged or humiliated.
Fear in social situations can be so strong that the affected person feels powerless to control it. As a result, social anxiety disorder limits an individual’s ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships, attend school or go to work.
Some of the most common psychological symptoms that characterize social anxiety disorder include:
- Extreme pessimism about social gatherings
- Obsession with being judged by others
- Strong aversion to meeting new people
- Strong aversion to public recognition
- Experiencing panic attacks prior to a social event
- Self-imposed isolation to avoid being embarrassed
The symptoms of social anxiety disorder go beyond internal stress and vary widely from person to person. Individuals dealing with SAD often report avoiding eye contact with others, having stiff posture and speaking in a soft tone of voice.
These are just a few of the many physical symptoms associated with social anxiety disorder. Many people with severe SAD often avoid public places altogether, in part because they fear their symptoms will draw judgment from others.
Physical symptoms related to social anxiety disorder, especially when in a new or undesirable situation, include:
- Faintness of breath
- Elevated heart rate
- Feeling of sudden dissociation
Risk Factors for Social Anxiety Disorder
A spectrum of risk factors can contribute to an individual manifesting social anxiety disorder. More often than not, the disorder is diagnosed during adolescence, but it can also develop earlier or later in life, depending on the individual.
A family history of anxiety, for example, would increase an individual’s risk of developing a social anxiety disorder, even if he or she manages to enter adulthood without an anxiety problem.
The following risk factors stand out as the most significant contributors toward a person’s being affected by social anxiety disorder:
- Personality: An individual’s temperament has a huge influence over his or her vulnerability to social anxiety disorder. Those who were shy or had social difficulties as a child are at a higher risk for this disorder than those who were more outgoing.
- Visible health complications ? Noticeable health issues, ranging from skin conditions such as vitiligo (loss of skin color) to a strong stutter, can be a source of constant shame and embarrassment for an individual. These conditions also increase an individual’s risk of developing a social anxiety disorder.
- Unfamiliar social dynamics: Adjusting to a new job, a new city or a new school can be an extremely stressful and exhausting process. For those who already have high anxiety, a major shift from one workplace to another can worsen their symptoms and feed into a full-blown social anxiety disorder.
- Genetics: As with most forms of mental illness, heredity plays a large role in determining how susceptible a person is to inheriting a health complication. Those with a parent or close family member who suffered from social anxiety disorder have a higher chance of developing the disorder themselves.
Seeking Out Social Anxiety and Addiction Treatment
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people dealing with social anxiety disorder to turn to drugs or alcohol to quell their symptoms. It may start with drinking to ease anxiety in social settings, but over time, the individual risks developing a substance abuse problem along with his or her social anxiety disorder.
Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs only worsens the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Eventually, the individual will feel the need to drink or use before every interaction with other people. Thankfully, these outcomes can be avoided.
The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village, we understand the need to treat addiction and social anxiety disorder at the same time. We understand that co-occurring mental health conditions can worsen or mask one another. That’s why our staff develops customized treatment programs to address the specific needs of each patient.
Contact us at (866) 295-6003 if you have more questions about social anxiety disorder and substance abuse, and the treatment thereof.