New Study Suggests Marijuana is a Coping Strategy for Anxious College Students

Julia D. Buckner of the Department of Psychology at Louisiana State University recently led a study that suggests that college students with social anxiety may be at risk for marijuana use. “Nearly one third of people with cannabis dependence also have social anxiety disorder (SAD), a rate higher than for any other anxiety disorder,” said Buckner. “Consistent with tension-reduction models, socially anxious individuals may use marijuana to manage chronically elevated anxiety, and using marijuana in this way may place them at risk for developing marijuana-related problems.” Buckner and her colleagues wanted to determine if people with high social anxiety (HSA) differed from people with low social anxiety (LSA) in how they used cannabis to cope. Additionally, the researchers also wanted to find out what coping strategies these students employed when cannabis was unavailable. “The present study tested whether using marijuana to cope specifically in social situations and avoidance of social situations if marijuana was not available were associated with marijuana-related problems among socially anxious individuals.”

The researchers administered 24 social situations to a group of undergraduate students using the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) and assessed the coping mechanisms of the students using the Marijuana Use to Cope with Social Anxiety Scale (MCSAS). They found that all of the students who reported using marijuana used it as coping mechanism or avoided the situations if they had social anxiety. Additionally, the team found that these students also experienced problems associated with the marijuana use. “The most common problems endorsed by HSA participants were procrastination (endorsed by 45.5% of HAS participants), lower productivity (45.5%), and lower energy (36.4%),” they said. “Yet, it is unclear why using marijuana to cope in more social situations was related to more marijuana related problems among HSA participants. One possibility is that HSA marijuana users’ reliance on marijuana to help them cope in social situations may interfere with the learning or use of more adaptive coping strategies.” They added, “Furthermore, they may come to believe they need marijuana to cope with these situations and be particularly likely to continue to use marijuana despite possible negative consequences.”

Buckner, J. D., Heimberg, R. G., Matthews, R. A., & Silgado, J. (2011, October 17). Marijuana-Related Problems and Social Anxiety: The Role of Marijuana Behaviors in Social Situations. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025822

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • steph boyd

    steph boyd

    October 25th, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    I happen to find this very sad. College is supposed to be the best time of your life, and these are kids throwing all of this away to smoke pot. I know that it can relax you and maybe make something a little more tolerable than it had been, but at what cost? look at everything that they could be throwing away all because of some anxiety. There are better ways to handle this, and parents and the schools too need to recognize this and give their students the coping startegies that they will need so that they don’t always feel like they have to turn to something like pot in order to make it through this. College times should be savored, not gone through in a smoky haze.

  • donald


    October 25th, 2011 at 5:36 AM

    I’m a parent myself but I don’t mind youngsters using marijuana.But once the using changes to abusing then there sure is a problem.And knowing young people as we all do,this can happen quite is an adult drug for usage by responsible adults and youngsters will almost always abuse it eventually.

  • Stella Alberts

    Stella Alberts

    October 25th, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    The college students who are using marijuana to cope in social situations aren’t looking further down the line. What happens once they graduate and are working? There’s very few jobs that don’t involve social situations to some degree, whether it’s meeting with clients, office parties, networking with clients or having lunch with the boss.

    You have to be able to handle that without lighting up a joint to do so or you’ll be unemployed. Marijuana’s a band-aid for social anxiety, not an answer.

  • Jeremy Forrest

    Jeremy Forrest

    October 25th, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    @Stella Alberts-I agree! Their time would be better spent learning about coping mechanisms that are both legal and more socially acceptable.

    Music for example can be very calming for me when I’m very anxious and nervous. The bottom line is you don’t need to resort to illegal drugs!

  • LOLA


    October 25th, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    How has marijuana become so readily available anyway? I know that there is a market for it, but to be so available, while illegal is kind of scary.

  • S


    October 25th, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    “These kids are throwing all of this away to smoke pot” ? Throwing what away? Certainly not their lives, since marijuana can’t kill you, unlike cigarettes and alcohol can, and those are both legal. Really, what’s the big deal with pot? Look up the ill effects of legal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes (even Tylenol) and compare them to the ill effects of marijuana. Marijuana use is SO less risky than other drug use, also, zero, I repeat, ZERO deaths have occurred from marijuana overdose. Please, everyone, become educated on this drug.

  • Hash-I'm


    October 26th, 2011 at 12:04 AM

    @S:People have closed their eyes to the facts and believe in whatever is told to them again and again.Its very surprising that in times like these when all kinds of information is available at their fingertips,people would still believe in propaganda c**p that is fed to them!

  • FayeMorrison


    October 26th, 2011 at 7:47 AM

    Avoidance is my favorite method of coping. I know I can’t hide from the world’s social scenarios completely but I’m doing a pretty good job of it so far. I wouldn’t go so far as to smoke marijuana, that’s for sure. I’d be too frightened I’d like it too much and get too dependent on that to where it would become the first thing I turned to.

  • jake


    October 26th, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    What is so wrong with a little something to help you relax in between stressful times every now and then? I see nothing wrong with that. It is legal other places- it should be here in the states too!

  • vanessa e.

    vanessa e.

    October 26th, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    Do what I do! Get seriously drunk and you can get through anything social with grace and style. You’ll be the life and soul of the party and everyone will think you’re cool and interesting. That’s sure how I’m gonna remember it in the morning when I have to make it up because I’m drawing a blank on the night before LOL.

  • David Gomez

    David Gomez

    October 26th, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Vanessa e., i sincerely hope you’re joking. Alcohol doesn’t help. If anything it’s worse because you can’t recall what you did or said if you get that drunk. Okay, it might-MIGHT-get you through on the night. However you’ll spend all your time after that with your anxiety levels off the charts wondering what the heck you did.

    At least with marijuana you’re just chilled out. With alcohol, anything could happen, especially to a woman. Stay safe.

  • Traci


    October 26th, 2011 at 11:21 PM

    The discussion should not be whether alcohol is better or is marijuana. Both should be avoided by youngsters. And if they are using either or both as a coping strategy then we must identify why that is happening and try to provide better techbiques like counselor help or anything that might help.

  • J.R.

    J.R. "Bob"

    September 28th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    Hmm…wonder who funded this research. Not really…BS pew pew

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