If you need to relax, you have a drink, right? After all, 40 million advertisements depicting booze acting as the answer to stress can’t be wrong, right? And if you’re using alcohol for social anxiety as a social crutch, you may think they definitely can’t be wrong. Can they?
They can, and such depictions drive rates of alcoholism soaring. While many people can and do drink in moderation, others turn to the bottle to cure a host of ills, even as the substance sickens them. If you use alcohol to cope with social anxiety disorder, you can break this habit. Here are eight tips for stopping using alcohol for social anxiety.
1. Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal helps you examine your thoughts and identify negative patterns. It serves as a valuable first step in recognizing the ways of thinking that drive you to the bottle in the first place.
For help with addiction recovery, a reflection journal serves as the best type to use. This type of journaling allows you to consider what you could have done differently in dealing with a stressful situation. For example, you might write, “I hit the bottle in my car before going to happy hour to brace myself. Next time, I could take a short walk after work to steel my nerves before heading out with the crew.”
Journaling in this fashion reminds you that you are not powerless over your addiction — you choose to participate in unhealthy behaviors. While you may have reasons for opting as you do, it doesn’t change the fact you have the power to decide differently. Often, this realization empowers you to take additional steps to overcome both alcoholism and social anxiety.
2. Practice Deep Breathing
One of the best ways to calm yourself before an anxious situation like meeting up with co-workers outside of the office is taking several slow, deep breaths. To do so, breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs deeply. Pause, hold your breath for three seconds, and then exhale completely through pursed lips as you relax the muscles of your face. Repeat this as often as necessary — breathing is natural and has no negative effects.
3. Understand Your Physiology
Women metabolize alcohol differently than men, making it easier for them to fall prey to addiction, especially if they’re using alcohol for social anxiety. On average, women have higher body fat percentages and lower body weight than men. They also produce lower levels of dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps the body break alcohol down.
The result is that you get drunker more quickly than your male counterparts. You’re also more likely to suffer negative health consequences from alcohol use.
4. Deal With Underlying Trauma
If you suffered trauma as a child or younger adult, you might abuse alcohol in an attempt to repress the memories. Take comfort in knowing you’re far from alone — one out of five women experiences assault in her lifetime. Seeking help through counseling can help you process your feelings stemming from the trauma. This, in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy in some cases, can help you overcome your social anxiety and addiction.
5. Learn to Reframe Thoughts
One of the primary goals of cognitive-behavioral therapy is teaching participants how to reframe their thoughts. Doing this entails recognizing when you think something negative, like, “No one really wants me to attend anyway.” You can wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it when you experience such thoughts.
Then, replace the negative thought with a more constructive interpretation of what is happening around you. For example, you could think, “I’ve always gotten along well with Dave from accounting, so I can speak with him to start. Maybe he’ll help introduce me to others.” The key is making the replacement thought believable, realistic and meaningful.
6. Suggest Non-Booze-Related Activities
When it comes time for social activities, if you have decision-making power, suggest your work crew meet up somewhere other than the bar for happy hour. If you don’t and feel uncomfortable admitting using alcohol for social anxiety at the office, send an email to the person responsible for organizing gatherings.
Frame the correspondence in a positive light. For example, “I know we have our monthly mixer at the local pub, but maybe it would help build morale more if we held a team volleyball match at a local park, especially since the weather’s so beautiful.” Who could pass up such a fun idea?
7. Remember Booze Impacts Cancer Risk
You may know that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver, but did you know it also increases your breast cancer risk? Women who drink more than three alcoholic beverages daily run a 15 percent higher risk of developing the disease. Alcohol increases estrogen levels, and an excess of this hormone contributes to the risk of the disease.
To keep your ta-tas healthy, restrict alcohol to no more than one or two drinks daily. If you drink only in social situations, continue this habit, but alternate each boozy beverage with a nonalcoholic one.
8. Exercise Caution With Medications
If you drink heavily on a daily basis to deal with office interactions, withdrawing cold turkey can cause severe symptoms, including seizures, and even death in extreme cases. Certain anti-anxiety medications, such as lorazepam, can ease withdrawal symptoms — but they prove problematic when mixed with the sauce. Your heart rate slows down and can stop when benzodiazepines are mixed with alcohol.
Going inpatient temporarily can help you detox safely and remove the temptation to drink. However, if this proves impossible due to work or life circumstances, avoid mixing alcohol with any medications your doctor prescribes.
Quitting Using Alcohol for Social Anxiety
Alcohol causes addiction and a host of health problems, but help does exist. By practicing the tips above and seeking outside assistance when necessary, you can learn to mix and mingle without a drink in hand.