Feeling safe but appearing anxious: Differential effects of alcohol on anxiety and social performance in individuals with social anxiety disorder

Behav Res Ther. 2017 Jul;94:9-18. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2017.04.008. Epub 2017 Apr 18.


Social anxiety disorder (SAD) and alcohol use disorders (AUD) co-occur frequently and there is preliminary evidence that alcohol might reduce social anxiety. It is, however, unclear which mechanisms contribute to the anxiety reducing effect, particularly regarding key aspects of social anxiety such as deficits in social performance. We compared self-rated and physiological measures of anxiety as well as self- and observer-rated social performance in a sample of 62 individuals with SAD and 60 nonanxious control participants during a speech task after receiving either alcohol, an alcohol-free placebo drink or orange juice. SAD patients reported more anxiety during the speech task than did control participants. Furthermore, SAD patients underestimated their performance in comparison to observer ratings. Alcohol reduced self-report anxiety only in SAD patients, while observers rated all participants as less competent when intoxicated. Although individuals with SAD experience a reduction in anxiety when drinking alcohol, simultaneous decreases in social performance might contribute to negative reactions from others and consequently increase the risk of further alcohol use to cope with these negative reactions.

Keywords: Alcohol consumption; Comorbidity; Social anxiety disorder; Social performance.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / blood*
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phobia, Social / drug therapy*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Speech / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Ethanol