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

gree of relief attained by drinking alcohol. Participants were also asked about using alcohol during 11 specific situations: four were considered "social interactions," such as meeting people for the first time, and seven were "performance" events, such as giving a speech to a group.

"We found that drinking to relieve social discomfort was a common practice in both groups, but that individuals with high levels of social anxiety use alcohol for this purpose more often, and they would drink both in anticipation of and during social situations," said Thomas. "Also, more individuals with high social anxiety avoid social situations if alcohol is not available. Lastly, they experience greater relief from anxiety in social situations than do individuals who are not highly anxious."

Thomas added that individuals with high levels of social anxiety did not experience full relief from their symptoms by using alcohol, but perhaps just enough to enable them to endure being in a social situation. "Individuals with high social anxiety do not use alcohol indiscriminately," said Thomas, "they may drink to cope with social-interaction situations, like meeting people for the first time, but not in performance-type situations, like giving a talk in front of a group, which they also fear."

Darlene H. Moak, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, said that this ability to discriminate between situations when alcohol use is acceptable or not warrants further research. "This finding suggests that utilizing a single anxiety-provoking experience such as giving a speech in front of a group may not be the best way to study the relationship between social anxiety and alcohol use. Individuals with social anxiety seem to learn that drinking before and during performance events is, in fact, counterproductive in that it can lead to increased anxiety due to poor performance."

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14-Dec-2003


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