Introversion and social anxiety are commonly considered to be roughly the same thing, and those who understand neither may simply call it “shyness.” But introversion and social anxiety are not the same thing, although they may co-exist. Introversion is largely a personality trait, while social anxiety is a mental health issue. Both introverts and extroverts can suffer from social anxiety.
About Social Anxiety
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety affects around 15 million adults in America and usually begins in childhood or early adolescence. It may be accompanied by depression or other anxiety disorders.
The signs and symptoms of social anxiety differ among individuals and may include:
- Fear of being judged by others
- Fear of humiliating or embarrassing yourself
- Fear of inadvertently offending someone
- Extreme fear of conversing with strangers
- Fear that people will notice your anxiety
- Fear and dislike of being the center of attention
- Analyzing your actions after a social situation and obsessing about your flaws and behaviors
- Expecting the worst possible outcome in a social situation
- Fear of the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating, a shaky voice, or blushing
- The onset of physical symptoms like dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, increased heart rate, and confusion
Social anxiety typically results in avoidance behaviors that interfere with daily activities like working, attending school, and engaging in social endeavors.
Social Anxiety, Addiction, and Recovery
Unlike introversion, social anxiety is often accompanied by other mental conditions or substance abuse issues. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that around 20 percent of people who have social anxiety also suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction.
Women in particular are more prone to using alcohol to reduce symptoms of social anxiety, but the relief is only temporary. In fact, alcohol more often increases anxiety and depression and causes negative shifts in mood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, severe substance abuse often develops in those who try to self-medicate their social anxiety.
A study by researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences found that in an addiction recovery setting, people who have social anxiety are less willing to talk to a therapist, attend community-based recovery groups like AA, participate in group therapy, or ask for sponsorship.
For those who have social anxiety that co-occurs with a substance addiction, a dual diagnosis treatment program is essential for successful recovery. This type of program treats the addiction and the social anxiety separately, but the treatments are integrated so that each condition is treated with the other in mind.
Introverts generally get their energy from within themselves and find that being around people depletes their energy. The nonprofit organization, Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), suggests that introversion can manifest in two ways: An introvert may either be self-sufficient and confident or withdrawn and timid.
Signs and symptoms of introversion include:
- Becoming emotionally drained around large groups of people
- Needing time alone to recharge after a social event
- Acting cautious when meeting others
- Feeling reserved and quiet in groups
- Disliking being the center of attention
- Forming few deep attachments
- Having limited interests, but deeply exploring the ones they do have
Introversion, Addiction, and Recovery
According to the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, introverts who have fewer positive feelings or who are not attracted to the rewards in life are more likely to suffer from drug or alcohol abuse than their more confident counterparts. Negative emotions, and the inability to curb them, are associated with an increased risk of substance abuse.
However, when it comes to recovery, the common personality traits of introverts may be beneficial. They tend to be self-reflective, they’re less likely to succumb to peer pressure from friends who still use drugs or alcohol, and they may have an easier time breaking free of unhealthy relationships. Introverts may also tend to be more open to the variety of spiritual tools, strategies, and techniques used in recovery.
When looking for a treatment center for an introverted loved one, consider programs that offer opportunities for reflection in solitude and whose roster of services includes alternative therapies like yoga, meditation, and other highly reflective or spiritual practices.