Raise a glass to social anxiety—but maybe just one. iStockPhoto.com / FS-Stock

anxiety and alcohol

Does drinking actually tamp down social anxiety? According to a recent study in Addictive Behaviors, it all boils down to personal preference and the company we keep.

A research team led by Eddie P. Caumiant analyzed how social anxiety, social familiarity, and alcohol consumption were related. Researchers equipped 48 heavy social drinkers with a device that measured their blood alcohol content for a week. During this time, drinkers were also required to take pictures of their surroundings and complete six surveys, randomly administered throughout each day, to assess their social anxiety. Results show that those who suffered from social anxiety drank more in the company of strangers; they appeared to imbibe to alleviate their anxiety about meeting new people and being judged or rejected. Those who lacked social anxiety, on the other hand, drank similar amounts regardless of their social surroundings, suggesting that they did not rely on alcohol to moderate their social enjoyment.

Understanding individual differences in stress responses will hopefully lead to better intervention strategies when it comes to alcohol moderation and improved mental health. This research warns that those who suffer from social anxiety may need to avoid or minimize situations that could lead to excessive drinking. Further, should they regularly interact with strangers, they may face a heightened risk of alcohol abuse.