Social anxiety (SAD) can cause people to feel apprehensive in social situations. Individuals with SAD have difficulty interacting with other people and feel uncomfortable speaking in public or in front of crowds. There are many ways people with SAD can cope with their anxiety, including using relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. However, some people cope in maladaptive ways through drug, alcohol, and cigarette use. Cannabis is an especially popular method of negative coping for people with SAD. Although it has been shown that people who are dependent on cannabis tend to have higher rates of SAD than other forms of anxiety, little research has explored how social settings influence cravings.
Julia D. Buckner of the Department of Psychology at Louisiana State University wanted to find out how cannabis cravings were experienced by individuals with SAD during highly social tasks compared with nonsocial tasks. Buckner enlisted 82 individuals who reported using cannabis regularly and evaluated their cravings for cigarettes, alcohol, and cannabis before, during and after a social or non-social task. Specifically, the participants were instructed to perform a social interaction task or a private reading task. Buckner found that the participants who completed the social interaction task had craving increases before the task and even higher increases during the task. Upon further examination, Buckner discovered that although many of the participants cited alcohol and cigarette use when first interviewed, the social interaction task did not elicit cravings for any substance other than cannabis.
The results of this study show that people with SAD and cannabis-use problems may rely specifically on cannabis as a way to reduce anxiety before and during social situations. It may be fruitful for clinicians treating individuals with cannabis dependency to integrate anxiety-reducing techniques into interventions. Buckner believes future work should include a more balanced ratio of men to women, as her sample was primarily female. Also, prospective studies should compare cannabis cravings to cannabis use in people with SAD. “In sum, the present study provides important experimental evidence suggesting that social interaction anxiety may increase the desire to use cannabis among current cannabis users,” Buckner said.
Buckner, J. D., Ecker, A. H., Vinci, C. (2012). Cannabis use vulnerability among socially anxious users: Cannabis craving during a social interaction. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029763
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