Social Anxiety and Alcohol: A Dangerous Cocktail

Do you drink alcohol to become more outgoing? Although many people believe that alcohol relaxes them, the physiological effects actually include increased agitation and anxiety...

According to author and researcher Bernardo J. Carducci, PhD, almost half of all adults would call themselves 'shy'. Of course, social anxiety is not the same as shyness, but if you feel shy (or even socially anxious) in certain situations, you might be more likely to have a drink (or five) to make things feel easier and less awkward.

Signs of social anxiety include feeling an intense fear of social situations, worrying about them a lot beforehand (or avoiding them all together) and blushing, having a racing heart, sweating and shaking when you're around other people. It might even lead to a full blown panic attack. It can have a huge effect on your life and hold you back at work and in your relationships.

Whilst drinking alcohol at social events might seem like a good idea by giving you more confidence and fewer inhibitions, there are a number of drawbacks.

Mental Health Anxiety Awareness
Photo: Craft and Cocktails

Firstly, let's talk about 'hang-xiety'. It's that feeling of dread and the knot in your stomach that you might have the day after a drinking session. You worry about how much money you pissed away and what embarrassing things you said or did the night before, which can only make feelings of anxiety worse.

Another problem with drinking to avoid social anxiety is that you never develop the skills and abilities to be able to handle those situations sober. You're simply masking the problem; numbing yourself to your nerves and giving yourself a false sense of confidence. The way to overcome social anxiety for good, is to face up to your fears (in the cold light of sobriety) and to teach yourself that you can indeed handle the situation, without the need for liquid courage.

Here are my tips for overcoming social anxiety (without needing to hit the bottle):

Many people with social anxiety worry about running out of things to say, so why not prepare some things to talk about and questions to ask beforehand. What interesting things can you say about your job? What have you been up to lately?
What questions can you ask that will let them know you're really interested in them?

Being socially anxious means having too much of your focus on yourself; how you're coming across, what you're feeling and what others might be thinking of you. Instead, work on giving all of your attention to the other person. Get really curious about them, ask questions and focus on their answers.

Many people with social anxiety avoid anxiety-provoking situations. Avoidance only makes anxiety worse. Instead, set small challenges for yourself. Tell yourself you’ll go to the party and speak to at least 3 people, or that you’ll stay for half an hour even if you feel uncomfortable. After you’ve done that, see if you can stay a bit longer. Whatever the outcome is, be kind and encouraging to yourself. It will be a little awkward at first but it gets easier and your confidence will grow.

Drink a boring drink. It’s much less tempting to drink too much if you’re sticking to plain old vodka sodas, rather than a delicious sugary cocktail. If you're not drinking at all, drinks such as a soda water and lime or a juice can be passed off as alcoholic drinks, so you don't have to draw attention to yourself for not drinking.  


Chloe Brotheridge is a hypnotherapist, anxiety expert and author of The Anxiety Solution: a Quieter Mind, a Calmer You.

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