Reduce Social Anxiety and Drinking with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When you practice sitting in curious awareness, without forcing it, mindfulness becomes easier and easier. You become an observer, rather than a participant in the damaging thoughts that run through your head. As you become more aware, you are less prone to engage in mindless harmful behaviors, like drinking, and more apt to act with intention and self-love and acceptance.” – Keri Wiginton
Inappropriate use of alcohol is a major societal problem. In fact, about 25% of US adults have engaged in binge drinking in the last month and 7% have what is termed an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse is very dangerous and frequently fatal. Nearly 88,000 people in the US and 3.3 million globally die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Drunk driving accounted for over 10,000 deaths; 31% of all driving fatalities. Excessive alcohol intake has been shown to contribute to over 200 diseases including alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries. It is estimated that over 5% of the burden of disease and injury worldwide is attributable to alcohol consumption. These are striking and alarming statistics and indicate that controlling alcohol intake is an important priority for the individual and society
Alcohol intake is often promoted by its perceived ability to improve social behavior and reduce social anxiety. It is a common human phenomenon that being in a social situation can be stressful and anxiety producing. Social anxiety is widespread, and reaches clinically significant levels in about 7% of the U.S. population. It has been found that mindfulness training can be effective for anxiety disorders including Social Anxiety Disorder. In addition, mindfulness training has been successfully applied to treating alcohol abuse. It appears to increase the ability of the drinker to control alcohol intake. Since, mindfulness appears to hold promise as a treatment for excessive alcohol intake and social anxiety, there is a need to examine the relationships between social anxiety, alcohol abuse, and mindfulness in people with alcohol abuse problems and who suffer with social anxiety.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Facets, Social Anxiety, and Drinking to Cope with Social Anxiety: Testing Mediators of Drinking Problems.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5381930/ ), Clerkin and colleagues recruited adults with alcohol dependence and high social anxiety. They had them complete measures of mindfulness, symptoms of alcohol dependence, alcohol consumption, drinking problems, social anxiety, drinking to cope with social anxiety, depression, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These measures were subjected to a path analysis to identify the interconnections between them.
They found that the greater the levels of social anxiety symptoms the higher the levels of drinking to cope with social anxiety and, in turn, the higher the levels of drinking problems. Further they found that found that the greater the levels of the mindfulness and the facets of mindfulness of acting with awareness, accepting without judgment, and describing the lower the levels of social anxiety symptoms and thereby the lower the levels of drinking to cope with this anxiety and, in turn, the lower the levels of drinking problems.
Hence, as has been previously observed, social anxiety tends to promote drinking problems by driving a coping strategy of using alcohol intake to deal with the anxiety. But, significantly, mindfulness is associated with reduced levels of social anxiety which is associated with lower drinking problems. In particular, the more the individual could describe how they are feeling, accept it without judgement, and be aware of their actions in the present moment, the less they felt anxiety in social situations. This, through reducing coping mechanisms, was associated with fewer drinking problems.
This study was correlative and causation cannot be concluded within the study itself. But, in other studies, increasing mindfulness was found to reduce anxiety, including social anxiety and to assist in controlling alcohol consumption. So, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the relationships observed in the present study were due to causal connections such that high mindfulness lowers social anxiety which lowers coping with anxiety by drinking.
So, reduce social anxiety and drinking with mindfulness.
“We live in an alcohol-addicted culture. Alcohol is used as a social lubricant, and has become such a crutch for most people to feel comfortable socially that they would feel lost without it.” – Sheryl Paul
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Clerkin, E. M., Sarfan, L. D., Parsons, E. M., & Magee, J. C. (2017). Mindfulness Facets, Social Anxiety, and Drinking to Cope with Social Anxiety: Testing Mediators of Drinking Problems. Mindfulness, 8(1), 159–170. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0589-6
This cross-sectional study tested social anxiety symptoms, trait mindfulness, and drinking to cope with social anxiety as potential predictors and/or serial mediators of drinking problems. A community-based sample of individuals with co-occurring social anxiety symptoms and alcohol dependence were recruited. Participants (N = 105) completed measures of social anxiety, drinking to cope with social anxiety, and alcohol use and problems. As well, participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, which assesses mindfulness facets of accepting without judgment, acting with awareness, not reacting to one’s internal experiences, observing and attending to experiences, and labeling and describing. As predicted, the relationship between social anxiety symptoms and drinking problems was mediated by social anxiety coping motives across each of the models. Further, the relationship between specific mindfulness facets (acting with awareness, accepting without judgment, and describe) and drinking problems was serially mediated by social anxiety symptoms and drinking to cope with social anxiety. This research builds upon existing studies that have largely been conducted with college students to evaluate potential mediators driving drinking problems. Specifically, individuals who are less able to act with awareness, accept without judgment, and describe their internal experiences may experience heightened social anxiety and drinking to cope with that anxiety, which could ultimately result in greater alcohol-related problems.