Teen social anxiety disorder associated with substance abuse

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Social anxiety disorder is a painful and debilitating condition. Data provided by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that the disorder affects approximately 5.5 percent of the population aged 13-18. While social anxiety is more prevalent among girls the total prevalence rates for both sexes nearly doubles between the ages of 13-14 (3.9 percent) and 17-18 (6.9 percent).

Research has shown a link between adolescent social anxiety disorder and substance abuse. A study demonstrated that in a pool of 195 teens that met the criteria for a substance use disorder, those with social anxiety or panic disorder were more apt to begin using the substance at an earlier age. The most commonly abused substance among the study participants was marijuana, with 92 percent reporting marijuana dependence. Sixty-one percent of the teens in the study group were alcohol dependent.

Approximately 80 percent of adolescents with social anxiety disorder had symptoms of that disorder before the onset of their substance abuse, the study data showed. Data also revealed that, not only were these teens “significantly more likely” to use cannabis, but that they began using it at an average age of 10.6 years of age.

Social anxiety disorder is defined as excessive emotional discomfort, anxiety, fear or worry about social situations. This condition causes the person to be unreasonably worried about being judged by others. In order to avoid the feared embarrassment the individual believes he or she will suffer as a result of being scrutinized or ridiculed publicly, they avoid social settings whenever possible. This disorder is often characterized by a few different symptoms:

  • Physical symptoms: trembling, blushing, sweating, nausea and stomach problems
  • Behavioral symptoms: anxiety so severe it affects daily life—school, work and activities; avoiding situations where the individual could be the center of attention and judged; excessive worry about being criticized, teased and humiliated; poor social skills; low self-esteem and extreme sensitivity

Often, social anxiety is missed by parents when the child is young. Usually children afflicted with this disorder are compliant and quiet in the classroom, as to not draw attention to themselves. Social anxiety disorder is usually not detected until early adolescence, with an average age of onset at 13. Parents begin to notice that their children are isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends and school activities.

When young teens are affected by social anxiety, they often seek relief in drugs and/or alcohol in an effort to self-medicate. Unfortunately a teen’s substance abuse may evolve into substance dependence so the sooner a parent seeks help for their child the better the chances of averting a serious substance use disorder from developing.

Those who develop a comorbidity of social anxiety disorder and substance use disorder will need to be treated for both issues. If a serious substance use disorder has developed, the teen may receive care at a residential treatment center where detox and therapy can be carefully monitored. Treatment for both the mental health disorder and the substance addiction can involve medication, therapy or a combination of both.

With appropriate and timely intervention and treatment, teens suffering from substance use and social anxiety disorders have an excellent chance of a successful treatment outcome.

White River Academy, places an emphasis on character development in adolescent males with behavioral issues, offering life skills classes and community service-oriented programs to instill qualities that lead to a productive and successful life post-recovery. For questions about White River Academy’s treatment programs for mental health disorders or for addiction, please call 866-520-0905.

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