Social Anxiety Disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder, as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is currently in its fifth edition. Having a mental health disorder like social anxiety disorder creates a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder- the term the DSM uses to describe addiction. “Co-occurring disorders” or “dual diagnosis” are the terms used to explain the relationship between a mental health issue like social anxiety disorder and addiction, which is also a mental health issue.
This article isn’t about dual diagnosis. This article is about the human experience and the fears that every human has which would otherwise be called “social anxiety”. Fears in social anxiety include fears of rejection, abandonment, humiliation, and exclusion. Social anxiety is convincing that something is going to go wrong, something is going to stick us out from the crowd, and as a result, we won’t be welcome back in. It’s basic pack psychology. We don’t want to be left out of the pack. We don’t want to be kicked out of the tribe. Our evolutionary psychology has ingrained in us that being on the outside of the herd makes it easier for us to be picked on by predators. Social anxiety is survival anxiety. We need to be around others because we are social creatures who thrive on the support and solidarity of others.
A set of research experiments into the neurobiology of addiction proved that socializing and being a part of the lives of others is essential to survival. Addiction affects the survival center of the brain, called the Midbrain. In the midbrain lives an order of operations for survival like eat, sleep, reproduce, and hunt. Obtaining and using drugs slowly climbs to the top of the list. To use drugs is to survive. Neuroscientists discovered this as they studied rats who were in isolated cages with access to cocaine laced water. The rats became addicted quickly and ferociously. When researchers introduced a lever for the rats to push, in order to administer the cocaine laced water, which was electrically charged, the rats pushed until they electrocuted themselves to death.
Another researcher noticed a flaw in the experiment. These rats were alone, isolated from other rats, or anything a rat might enjoy in life. This researcher built what has now become known as Rat Park. In Rat Park, a wide open cage, there were many rats, including rats of the opposite sex. While there was cocaine laced water available, there were also toys and wheels. The rats were not likely to kill themselves on cocaine and few of the rats became addicted. With other rats to interact with and a reason to live, the rats in Rat Park had happier lives.
Addiction causes us to forget that happier lives are possible. Psychologically isolating, we experience a social anxiety of fatal proportions. Once we come to treatment and get sober with other people, we realize we aren’t alone. We start incorporating things into our lives like exercise, fitness, and activity, that distracts our minds from drugs, thereby changing the wiring in our brains to crave living and thriving over surviving and dying.
Tree House Recovery is creating sustainable change by teaching men how to find freedom from addiction. Our long term residential treatment programs are transforming the way men see themselves and live their lives. For information on our Portland programs, call us today: (503) 850-2474