Anxiety

Social Anxiety and Alcohol; a Dangerous Cocktail

While cannabis was the drug that really spiralled my social anxiety out of control, the initial trigger for me was alcohol.

Using alcohol to cope with social anxiety can feel like the solution to all of your problems. All you want is to feel confident, uninhibited and interesting, which is exactly what alcohol provides. However, using alcohol to cope with social anxiety is an unhealthy coping mechanism that can quickly lead to addiction.

20% of social anxiety sufferers also have an alcohol addiction or dependency.

My relationship with social anxiety and alcohol has been a turbulent one. Alcohol has significantly affected my mental health issues, from violently aggravating my borderline personality disorder to triggering and worsening my depression. However, for a good couple of years my social anxiety was the biggest problem in my life – and it all started on the first day of university.

social anxiety and alcohol, using alcohol to cope with social anxiety

How Alcohol Made My Social Anxiety So Much Worse

After being bullied at school and keeping to myself during college, I decided that university was going to be different. This time, I was going to make friends.

I made a vow to put myself out there. I was going to go to every fresher’s event, join every society, and most importantly, I was going to talk to people instead of just waiting for people to talk to me. Easy, right? 

It sure was. All I needed was a drink in my hand.

I loved Drunk Kie and so did everyone else. She was fun, sassy and up for anything. She made friends with girls in bathrooms, struck up meaningful conversations with strangers in smoking areas. She didn’t tell jokes that nobody laughed at (come on guys, not even a sympathetic titter?), or kill conversations with an awkward laugh and a blank stare. She was present, engaging, everything I ever wanted to be. 

And so I drank. Excessively. In fact, I partied pretty much every single night in the belief that I’d finally found the cure. I had friends, I was happy, and it was all because of you, vodka.

The high didn’t last long, though. I became dependant on alcohol … fast. My anxiety soared whilst sober, the friends I’d made so easily when drunk reduced to strangers in the morning. I used to bump into my drinking buddies on campus and have to feign a hangover as an excuse for my noticeable awkwardness. 

“Sorry guys, I just feel so tired” became the entirety of my sober conversation skills.

I wanted desperately to be rid of my social anxiety and alcohol seemed like the only solution. I wanted to become the drunk version of myself forever. But of course, as my drinking got worse so did the social anxiety.

I began to suffer from random emotional breakdowns. I couldn’t attend any casual meet-ups or lectures without being tipsy. Sometimes, it was difficult to even venture into the kitchen without a swig of something strong. 

I was using alcohol to cope with social anxiety but eventually, all alcohol did was make it 10x worse.

How I Managed To Overcome My Alcohol Dependency

The relationship between social anxiety and alcohol abuse is different for everyone. I am not a mental health expert, these are just my personal experiences. If you want professional advice on social anxiety and alcohol abuse, check out my resources page or visit your GP.

Despite having impulsive BPD, I’m pretty good at stopping myself from becoming a full-blown drug addict – even if it is in the nick of time. Once I realised that I was absolutely incapable of talking to people without a drink, I became determined to break the destructive cycle of social anxiety and alcohol abuse by reducing my drinking.

Here’s what I did (and still do) to control my social anxiety and alcohol problem.

  1. I stopped drinking on my own completely, full-stop.
    I did this to stop myself from drinking before meeting up with people, but it really opened my eyes to how often I would reach for the bottle even when I was alone.
  2. I forced myself to take part in non-drinking social events
    I was the friend who was happy to meet up at a party or a bar, but invite me to a casual brunch or shopping trip and I couldn’t handle it. However, the more I pushed myself to do sober activities, the easier they became.
  3. I only day-drank on special occasions
    When you are using alcohol to cope with social anxiety, you suddenly become a huge fan of happy hours – even if they start at 11am! I restricted myself to a strict no-drinking-until-6pm rule which helped me to readjust to normality.
  4. I ditched the binge-drinking
    While I may be more of a bore on a night out, binge-drinking only leads to the exasperation of my symptoms. I used to wake up every day in a turmoil of hungover anxiety as I replayed the previous night’s antics and all the ways I’d embarrassed myself.

By changing my drinking behaviour, I was able to prevent a co-occurring disorder while building my resilience to unhealthy coping mechanisms. However, what I didn’t do – and should have done – is seek professional help.

At the time of this going on, I had absolutely no idea that social anxiety was a legitimate mental health illness. I was ‘just an introvert’, your stereotypical shy kid. The relationship between social anxiety and alcohol abuse was a completely foreign concept. This was dangerous because I only focused on the surface level issue – my alcohol consumption – rather than the underlying catalyst – my social anxiety.

So, although my social anxiety became less debilitating, by no means did it disappear. Seeking professional help is essential because if I had, I may have been more aware of my anxiety’s susceptibility to the dark side of drugs. 

social anxiety alcohol, using alcohol to cope with social anxiety

Quick thoughtThere’s a deep-rooted relationship between student life and alcohol, isn’t there? Maybe it’s the pressure from society to hit the pubs as soon as we hit eighteen? Maybe it’s the fault of British Universities and their endorsement of you getting absolutely shit-faced for a straight week. Or is it just the natural behaviour of nervous young-adults, moving away from home for the first time and trying desperately to forge friendships with strangers? What do you think?

Have you had a similar experience with social anxiety and alcohol? Do you still drink alcohol, or have you decided to stop completely? Please share it with me in the comments below – I love to hear other people’s stories about this! 

I am a mental health blogger from the UK, sharing my crazy experiences with BPD, depression and anxiety. Offering tricks and tidbits of mental health and self-care advice while using this space to rant to my heart's content.

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