By Danielle Owen, IIIC Director of Wellness and Education Services

In the eight years I have been honored to work with the Boston Irish immigrant community, an issue has consistently surfaced for people dealing with alcohol and/or drug abuse problems; Social Phobia.

Let me be clear, this will not be an exploration of how shyness “makes” people drink or
use drugs! Social phobia is often hidden and frequently confused with “being shy.” The truth is it’s a very common disorder but with support, its key symptoms can
be successfully managed. If untreated, people with social phobia are at high risk for alcohol or other drug dependence, loneliness and isolation because they may come to rely on drinking or drugs to relax in social situations. It may begin in adolescence with both males and females being equally at risk of developing this problem.

Social phobia is a persistent and irrational fear of situations like being seen at parties and other social events. People tend to have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others, and of doing things that will embarrass them and because of this fear tend to avoid situations where they may be “seen”. They may feel this overwhelming anxiety and self-consciousness in everyday situations, not just at events. They can worry for days or weeks before a dreaded situation, that may become so severe it interferes with work, school, and other activities, making it hard to make and keep friends. Although many people with social phobia realize that their fears are excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome them on their own.

Physical symptoms that often occur with social phobia include blushing, difficulty talking, nausea, profuse sweating, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate and/or trembling and it is different from shyness. Shy people are able to participate in social functions however people with social phobia are constrained by their condition to the point that it affects their ability to function in work and relationships. Common fears can include:

o   Attending parties/ going to the pub or other social occasions
o   Eating, drinking, and writing in public
o   Meeting new people
o   Speaking in public
o   Using public restrooms

There are a number of ways people can get help – you cannot “snap” yourself out of this condition. The goal of treatment is to help you function effectively in all situations and  success usually depends on the severity of the phobia.

Frequently I meet people in recovery from alcohol or drugs discover that these symptoms can continue for months after they abstain. Without effective support, individuals are then at higher risk of relapse; soon followed with a pain, shame and hurt.

Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are sometimes used to help relieve the
symptoms associated with phobias but are not always necessary. Counseling and group support can be very effective in helping you understand and change the thoughts
that are causing your condition, as well as learn to recognize and replace panic-causing
thoughts. There are some great support groups and specialists available in Massachusetts who can help, and we here at the IIIC are available to chat with you about the best referral option available, even if you do not have health insurance.

Recovery and change is always possible.  Let us help you!  Call Danielle at 617-542-7654 ext.14 for more information, and to chat about your options.

Email – See this great resource for more information