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When alcohol consumption evolves from a 'social lubricant' into a 'crutch'

  • Individuals with social anxiety disorder are pained at the thought of being scrutinized, and have an extreme fear of looking foolish to others.
  • New research indicates that they may also deliberately drink alcohol in order to cope with social interaction, and avoid social situations where alcohol is unavailable.

Individuals with social anxiety disorder are not simply shy. They are pained at the thought of being scrutinized, and have an extreme fear of looking foolish to others. Findings published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research indicate that they may also deliberately drink alcohol in order to cope with social interaction, and avoid social situations where alcohol is unavailable.

"Social anxiety disorder can keep people from enjoying social events and often interferes with their jobs, especially when they are required to speak to a group as part of their work," explained Suzanne E. Thomas, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina and first author of the study. "Besides avoiding situations where they might be evaluated, many individuals with social anxiety disorder [also] use alcohol to cope."

Thomas noted that although reports vary, the average lifetime prevalence of alcoholism among individuals with social anxiety disorder is 20 percent; that is, one in five develops alcoholism at some point in their lifetime. This compares to about a 10 percent lifetime prevalence of alcoholism in the general population, or, one in 10.

For this study, Thomas and her colleagues examined 46 study participants (26 females, 20 males), evenly divided into two groups with similar demographic variables and alcohol use: 23 had high social anxiety, and 23 "controls" were not socially anxious. All participants were asked about their use of alcohol as a coping mechanism, the practice of avoiding social situations if alcohol were not available, and the de
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14-Dec-2003


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