Alcohol Addiction

photo of a young man holding his head with his hands

Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Use: I’m SAD! I need a drink!

Being sad is one thing, but suffering from social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a totally different ball game. This is the same way that “wanting” a drink differs from “needing” a drink. When joined with problem drinking, this forms a lethal combination.  For a long time, experts have witnessed that people with anxiety disorders are susceptible to substance abuse and vice versa, but determining which one is the preceding problem has been a stumbling block for diagnosis.

More than just shyness

An individual suffering from social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder (SAD), has a distinct and sometime irrational fear or anxiety about specific circumstances. According to WebMD, some of these situations include:

  • Speaking in public
  • Eating or drinking in front of others
  • Writing or working in front of others
  • Being the center of attention
  • Interacting with people (i.e. dating, attending parties, etc.)
  • Asking questions or giving reports in groups
  • Using public toilets
  • Talking on the telephone[1]

What causes SAD? Many researchers believe that it might be related to the abnormal functions of the brain circuits that regulate fear and anxiety. Genetics is also thought to play a part in its roots, since social phobia occasionally runs in a family. Other factors include stress and environment.[2]

The fear of making a mistake or humiliating oneself in front of others can be debilitating to a person with SAD. Taking a drink to calm one’s nerves is often used as a coping mechanism.

More common and costly than you think

Anxiety disorders, which affect over 40 million adults (or approximately 18 percent of the population), are the common mental illnesses in the United States.[3] According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from SAD.

The disorder often surfaces during the teenage years or early adulthood and is more prevalent in women than men. Although highly treatable, sadly, only one-third of those suffering seek professional treatment.[4]

The economic costs associated with anxiety disorders in the United States are overwhelming. In the 1990, the costs were estimated to be around $46.6 billion. The majority of the expenditures was tied to the loss and reduction of productivity and other indirect costs, instead of treatment.[5]

Symptoms and signs

The symptoms that a person who is suffering with SAD experiences can vary and be difficult to distinguish from other health issues, such as depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. These individuals tends to have negative thoughts about themselves and what will happen to them in social situations. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some of the common signs are:

  • Anxiousness – especially about being with other people
  • Self-consciousness – worried about how they are perceived by others
  • Extreme fear of embarrassment
  • Excessive worrying – sometimes for days and weeks before an activity
  • Avoidance of places where people hang out in crowds
  • Difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships

Physical signs, which include:

  • Blushing
  • Heavy sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Hard time talking[6]

Self-medicating

Even after diagnosis, individuals are often leery about seeking professional help. They underestimate the seriousness of their condition and believe that they can fix the problem themselves. Instead of seeking mental health treatment, alcohol and other substance are often used for self-medicating an anxiety disorder. Researchers are investigating just how frequently people are using and abusing self-destructive alternatives to deal with SAD and other anxiety-based disorders.

Individuals self-medicating an anxiety disorder are two to five times more likely to develop an alcohol or drug problem within three years.

A 2011 longitudinal study that includes almost 35,000 U. S. adults revealed that 13 percent of those who had consumed alcohol or drugs during the previous year had done so in order to relieve anxiety, fear or panic. It also found that individuals with a diagnosed anxiety disorder who were self-medicating at the beginning of the research were two to five times more likely to develop an alcohol or drug problem within three years than people who did not self-medicate.[7]

Other results from the three-year study showed that the number of people with an anxiety disorder who developed a substance problem varied depending on the self-medicating substance:

  • With alcohol use – 13 percent developed an alcohol problem
  • With recreational drugs use -“ 10 percent developed a drug problem

A drink won’t help

One of the most frequent self-medicating techniques is alcohol consumption. Individuals turn to alcohol because it help them feel more in control of a given situation or encounter. It also lowers inhibitions and reduces self-consciousness.  In some social gatherings, such as parties and mixers, alcohol is available in abundance.

A 2012 study at Emory University investigated the relationship between SAD and the motives for drinking. The researchers believed that the reasons for drinking are based on the fact that people drink in order to achieve an outcome that is of value to them. The motives can be categorized as:

  • Social: Drinking to aid camaraderie
  • Enhancement: Drinking to have more confidence or to enhance the impact of another drug
  • Coping: Drinking to cope with or escape from stress

The results showed that 13 percent of the participants met criteria for SAD at some point during their lives. It was determined that SAD was a predictor of coping drinking motives, but was not a predictor for social or enhancement motives. The research also revealed that other mood disorders (i.e. depression, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder) also lead to coping drinking motives. [8]

Short-term solution, long-term problems

Self-medicating anxiety with alcohol makes things worse in the long term.Drinking alcohol is only a short-term solution for suppressing anxiety. Initially, drinking may make an individual suffering from SAD have less tension and feel more confident in social situations. However, once the “buzz” wears off, the old anxiety returns. Dr. James M. Bolton, lead researcher in a 2011 study about the effectiveness of alcohol in treating anxiety, stated: “People probably believe that self-medication works. What people do not realize is that this quick-fix method actually makes things worse in the long term.” [9]

Alcohol is a depressant and has an overall detrimental effect on the central nervous system. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, regular alcohol use can lead to long-term health problems such as:

  • Stretching and drooping of heart muscles (cardiomyopathy)
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease/inflammations
  • Certain cancers (mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast)
  • Weaken immune system [10]

Additionally, alcohol can interfere with the thinking process. Drinking a couple of glasses wine before a presentation may seem like a way to lessen tension. However, that consumption can lead to making errors and possibly fumbling through the talk, which could increase the anxiety for any future communications. Thus, this compels the anxiously-minded individual to drink even more alcohol and starts a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.

Alcohol is not the answer

If you suffer from SAD, don’t make the mistake of trying to eliminate your problems with alcohol SAD is a psychological disorder and should be treated by medical professionals.  Treating SAD with alcohol leads to additional problems that can destroy relationships with families and friends.

If you or a loved one has already started self-medicating with alcohol, the experts at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches can help. With nearly 20 years of experience, our doctors can develop a treatment program that gives you better options to deal with your anxiety issues. Alcohol is not a safe and healthy way to deal with anxiety. Call us at (888) 432-2467 for healthier possibilities.

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Alcohol Still One of The Nation’s Deadliest Drugs

While much of the national discussion about substance abuse and addiction has been focused on the rising death tolls surrounding prescription opioids and heroin use, alcohol-induced deaths remain perched near the top.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the alcohol-induced death rate has increased nearly 23 percent since 1999. It also revealed that almost 31,000 people died as a result of alcohol abuse in 2014, surpassing the death toll from opioid overdoses. When accounting for deaths from drunk driving, other accidents and homicides committed under the influence of alcohol, the death toll spiked to 88,000 in 2014, making alcohol the second deadliest drug in America, only behind tobacco. [1]

Why Americans Are Drinking More and More

Given the various factors that lead an individual to alcohol consumption and abuse, pinpointing an exact reason why alcohol-related deaths have increased is extremely difficult, if not impossible. But one of the simplest reasons is that Americans are drinking more. The number of Americans who reported having a drink in the previous month has increased along with the rising death toll. [2]

The most significant increase is in the female demographic, who reported more drinking and binge drinking than in the past. In 2006, 45.2 percent of women reported drinking within the past month, and 15.2 percent admitted to binge drinking (five or more drinks in one occasion). In 2014, those numbers climbed to 48.4 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively.

Another factor is that alcohol is more affordable than it has been in six decades, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study attributed this to rising incomes and stagnant alcohol taxes. [3]

What’s Leading to More Deaths?

A rise in alcohol consumption does not necessarily lead to an increase in alcohol-related deaths. In fact, while more and more people are drinking alcohol, binge-drinking and heavy alcohol use have not increased population-wide, according to the National Survey on Drug Abuse. Many industry experts have pointed to the opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic as a reason why.

It’s extremely dangerous to mix prescription painkillers and alcohol. When taken together, opioids and alcohol intensify the effects of the other drug. Additionally, approximately one-third of opioid deaths now involve benzodiazepines, such as Xanax. Benzodiazepines can enhance the effects of alcohol, which may explain why death rates from alcohol have risen at the same time as death rates from prescription drugs.

What Can Be Done?

Leading researchers are pointing to the need for legislative action. It is impossible to completely eliminate all substance use and abuse, as was shown during the nation’s failed attempt at prohibition in the 1920s. But just because alcohol abuse and the resulting deaths can’t be eliminated doesn’t mean that they can’t be reduced. Many leading researchers are pointing to the need for legislative action and federal policy changes.

One of the loudest calls is for an increase on alcohol tax, as written by David Roodman, senior adviser for the Open Philanthropy Project: [4]

“Higher prices do correlate with less drinking and lower incidence of problems such as cirrhosis deaths. And I see little reason to doubt the obvious explanation: higher prices cause less drinking. A rough rule of thumb is that each 1 percent increase in alcohol price reduces drinking by 0.5 percent. Extrapolating from some of the most powerful studies, I estimate an even larger impact on the death rate from alcohol-caused diseases: 1-3 percent within months. By extension, a 10 percent price increase would cut the death rate 9-25 percent. For the US in 2010, this represents 2,000-6,000 averted deaths/year.”

A 10 percent increase, put in context, amounts to only a few extra cents and dollars on a bottle of wine, spirits or on a six-pack of beer, but could save thousands of lives.

Parents Must Set Better Examples

One of the greatest predictors of a person’s future drinking habits is their parents’ patterns. It has been shown that children of alcoholics are approximately four times more likely to develop alcohol abuse problems than the rest of the population. [5] It has also been shown that children may mirror their parents’ drinking habits when they become adults. [6]

Even further than parents directing the future substance abuse habits of their children, they are also often the easiest place for kids to acquire alcohol. According to a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, children who had sipped alcohol by the time they were in sixth grade were about five times more likely to have a full drink by high school and four times more likely to binge and get drunk. [7]

Quite obviously, the most likely place for an underage person to get alcohol is from his or her parents:

  • Nearly half of kids between ages 12 and 14 who drink got their alcohol for free from a family member or at home. [8]
  • Approximately 709,000 U.S. kids between ages 12-14 have had at least one alcoholic beverage in the last month. [9]
  • Of this group, 93.4 percent said they got their alcohol for free last time they drank.
  • 44.8 percent of kids who got free alcohol said it was from a parent or in their home.
  • 19.6 percent got alcohol from another underage person
  • 13.5 percent from an unrelated adult
  • 6.8 percent from someone else’s home.
  • 8.7 percent got alcohol from other miscellaneous source
  • 6.6 percent paid for their alcohol
  • People who begin drinking alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who wait till they are 21. [10]

By working to reshape the thoughts and attitudes children have about alcohol use and abuse, parents can sow the seeds for a better future with fewer alcohol-induced deaths. This begins with parents setting examples with their actions as well as their words.

Start Setting a Better Example by Seeking Help

No matter how long you’ve been abusing alcohol or to what extent alcoholism has taken hold, it’s never too late to ask for help. If you’ve allowed alcohol and drug abuse to take over your life and dominate your habits, set an example your kids won’t soon forget by admitting you have a problem, acknowledging the need for treatment, completing rehab and turning around your life.

Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches will guide you through each step of the process, from a medically administered alcohol detox all the way to a year’s worth of aftercare services. Contact us today at 888-432-2467 to learn more about our treatments, family-themed therapies and nationally recognized facilities.

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