Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. However, when it becomes debilitating, it can lead to serious issues like substance abuse and addiction. Social anxiety and other anxiety disorders are very common and many people in recovery struggle to cope with feelings of anxiousness in social situations, even after getting sober. Finding healthy ways to deal with social anxiety in recovery is essential and can help you maintain your sobriety while you learn how to form healthy and balanced relationships in recovery.
What is Social Anxiety?
According to the Social Anxiety Institute, social anxiety is “the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.”1
Following depression and alcoholism, social anxiety is the third most common psychological disorder in the U.S. and about 7 percent of the population suffers from some form of social anxiety at the present time.1 In total, 15 million adults suffer from social anxiety disorder in the U.S.2
People with social anxiety may have symptoms in varying degrees of intensity, but they often experience significant emotional distress in the following situations:
- Meeting new people
- Receiving social judgment in the form of teasing or criticizing
- Being in the spotlight or the center of attention
- Meeting people in authoritative positions
- Being watched while performing, speaking, or performing some other task
- Developing interpersonal relationships with friends and significant others
- Any social encounters
This is not an exhaustive list and people with social anxiety may experience severe feelings of anxiousness and fear in other social situations as well.
Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Social Anxiety
About a third of people with an anxiety disorder also have a substance use disorder.3 This often stems from an inability to cope with the anxiety that comes with social situations. Whether a person lacks coping skills or has simply reached their personal limit, he or she may deal with the psychological stress by abusing drugs or alcohol.
As a person continues to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, they not only increase their risk for addiction and dependence, but they are also more likely to experience other difficulties in life, such as legal issues, employment problems, and relational difficulties. All of these circumstances compile and contribute to one another, worsening the person’s anxiety problems and further exacerbating the substance abuse and addictive behaviors.
While certain substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines may seem to help reduce anxiety, in reality, they can actually make it worse. Alcohol or Xanax may appear to relieve feelings of anxiousness, but when they are abused, they can cause other problems that become additional sources of psychological stress.
Alcohol, in particular, is one substance that many people with social anxiety rely on to cope. Frequently coined as “liquid courage,” the effects of alcohol often give people the confidence and courage to face social situations that they otherwise would feel unable to confront. Unfortunately, instead of developing healthy ways of coping, abusing alcohol regularly in social situations can quickly lead to dependence and addiction.
Social Anxiety and Other Co-Occurring Disorders
People with social anxiety are also more likely to suffer from other types of anxiety disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, and other specific phobias.4 These can develop as the substance abuse worsens and the original problem (the anxiety) is ignored and is left untreated.
Not surprisingly, many of the psychological disorders listed above also share risk factors with substance abuse and addiction. Shared risk factors for addiction and psychiatric disorders include:
- Extreme stress
- Brain changes as a result of drug abuse or mental illness
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of all people who have a substance use disorder also have a mental illness of some kind.5
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How to Cope With Social Anxiety in Recovery: 4 Tips
After addiction treatment in detox, rehab, and a sober living program is over, social anxiety can still be a problem. Fortunately, there are several things a person can do to learn how to cope with social anxiety in recovery as they continue living a life of sobriety. Here are four helpful tips to deal with social anxiety.
1. Continue with or consider individual therapy.
Behavioral therapy can help people with social anxiety learn and apply healthy ways of coping with feelings of anxiety without relying on drugs or alcohol. Many detox centers, rehab programs, and sober living programs provide individual therapy, but some people in recovery may benefit from continuing therapy even after they have completed their addiction treatment.
2. Practice relaxing with deep breathing and meditation.
Relaxing is a learned skill and it will take practice, but deep breathing and mindful meditation can help. Setting aside a small amount of time each day can provide valuable practice utilizing these stress-relief techniques so when anxiety or panic sets in, the necessary tools are there to cope.
3. Avoid social situations that revolve around alcohol.
Instead of attending alcohol-centered events or social gatherings, choosing alternative social activities can help relieve social stress and reduce the likelihood of relapse. There are many social activities that don’t involve alcohol and doing something enjoyable and familiar with other sober people can make coping much easier.
4. Accept personal imperfections.
No one is perfect and it’s unreasonable to expect perfection in any way, shape, or form. Part of the recovery process is learning to accept life on life’s terms and adjust accordingly. This also involves accepting individual imperfections and mistakes and learning from them. Instead of letting those mistakes and imperfections define the future, people in recovery can take them as they are, learn from them, and practice more self-awareness in the future.
Coping with social anxiety after addiction is just one of the many challenges of living a life in recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling to adjust to the changes that a life of sobriety brings, Eudaimonia Recovery Homes can help.
We provide sober living homes and recovery support services to help you adjust to your new life in recovery. By offering safe, clean, and judgment-free living spaces, our sober living programs can provide the structure and personalized support you need to learn how to live a sober life and maintain your recovery, despite any social anxiety you may face.
Call (512) 363-5914 to learn more about our sober living homes and recovery support services or to enroll today.