It is completely normal to feel shy occasionally, especially when with total strangers or judgmental individuals, but for some people, shyness can be debilitating and even dangerous.

Someone who experiences intense social anxiety may have palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, sweats, and blundering speech. Sadly, too often, individuals suffering from this level of discomfort with social interaction turn to drugs or alcohol as an attempt to “loosen up.” However, this type of dependency and “self-medicating” can quickly lead to a full-blown dependency problem requiring addiction treatment.

Studies have shown that approximately 20% of individuals with social anxiety struggle with abuse or addiction.

Living with a combination of a social anxiety disorder and a substance abuse addiction can be more than overwhelming. In addition to the well-known dangers of addiction, studies suggest that those living with social anxiety and substance abuse live lives filled with shame, loneliness and a lack of empowerment. They are also less likely to get married, which is often due to their difficulties in developing close interpersonal relationships. Studies also show that alcoholics with social anxiety disorder have lower job status and less peer social support than alcoholics who don’t have this disorder. According to Murray Stein, MD, MPH, alcohol use can also increase anxiety, irritability, or depression, adding to even more social problems.

Shyness is rooted in having many doubts and insecurities about one’s self. If a person suffering in this way learns to understand how and why these insecurities formed, he can learn to view himself differently and slowly but surely overcome this problem. This work can effectively be done by going to a therapist. Once an individual finds a therapist he can trust, it will be possible to explore the problem in greater depth and arrive at workable solutions.
One thing a good therapist will do is help his client learn to identify damaging thinking patterns. For example, many people with social anxiety have very negative, anxiety-provoking self-talk. “They will think I’m stupid” and “Everyone is going to talk about me” are typical thoughts for one suffering from social anxiety. Therapy can help one understand that there are more positive and realistic ways to think about social situations. In some cases, medication will be suggested.

In short, a good counselor can teach someone who is battling intense feelings of social anxiety to lead a productive, happy, and empowered life free from debilitating shyness…and addiction.

If you fear that your shyness has led you to abuse drugs or alcohol, please call our 24-hour toll-free helpline.866-569-7233

Image Magazine published a version of this SAFE article in their November 2014 issue.

This article has been adapted from the following sources: