Understanding the relationship between social anxiety and alcohol use in college students: a meta-analysis

Addict Behav. 2013 Nov;38(11):2690-706. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2013.06.014. Epub 2013 Jun 28.


Many college students use alcohol, and most of these students experience problems related to their use. Emerging research indicates that socially anxious students face heightened risk of experiencing alcohol-related problems, although the extant research on alcohol use and social anxiety in this population has yielded inconsistent findings. This meta-analysis was conducted to examine the relationship between social anxiety and alcohol variables in college students. A literature search was used to identify studies on college students that included measures of social anxiety and at least one of the alcohol variables of interest. All analyses were conducted using random effects models. We found that social anxiety was negatively correlated with alcohol use variables (e.g., typical quantity and typical frequency), but significantly positively correlated with alcohol-related problems, coping, conformity, and social motives for alcohol use, and positive and negative alcohol outcome expectancies. Several moderators of effect sizes were found to be significant, including methodological factors such as sample ascertainment approach. Given that social anxiety was negatively related to alcohol use but positively related to alcohol-related problems, research is needed to address why individuals high in social anxiety experience more problems as a result of their alcohol use. Avoidance of social situations among socially anxious students should also be taken into account when measuring alcohol use. The primary limitation of this study is the small number of studies available for inclusion in some of the analyses.

Keywords: Alcohol; Meta-analysis; Social anxiety; Undergraduates.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Phobic Disorders / complications*
  • Students / psychology*