I found a great phrase in this article about shyness on psychologytoday.com: Liquid Extroversion.
OK, shyness is not the same as Introversion, but many of us will have been through the same phases in adolescence or early adulthood – feeling a little different and reaching out for a little social lubricant in liquid form. That would be just dandy if it stayed a reliable solution, or if it wasn’t such a seductively “easy” alternative to the long, slow, sometimes painful process of becoming more comfortable with who we are. As the article says:
about 12% of the shy turn to what I call liquid extroversion. They are a distinct population of people, who, often beginning inadolescence, ingest drugs or alcohol to deal with their shyness. They self-medicate as a social lubricant, to give them courage. And while it may remove inhibitions, it doesn’t provide them with what they desperately need — actual social skills, knowledge about how to be with others. Further, drinking interferes with their cognitive functioning.
Liquid extroversion poses the great danger of overconsumption of alcohol. Indeed, we have found in separate studies that a significant proportion of problem drinkers in the general population are shy.
But shy alcoholics tell us they do not like having to drink to perform better; they feel uneasy and lack confidence in their true selves. They begin to believe that people will like them only if they are outgoing, not the way they really are.
Interestingly, the largest program for problem drinkers, Alcoholics Anonymous, works squarely against shy people. Whereas the shy are slow to warm up, AA asks people to stand up right away, to be highly visible, to immediately disclose highly personal information. It is my belief that there needs to be an AA for the shy, a program that takes into consideration the nature and dynamics of shyness. A meeting might, for example, begin by having a leader speak for the first 45 minutes while people get comfortable, followed by a break in which the leader is available to answer questions. That then paves the way for a general question-and-answer period.
There’s certainly a lot in there I can relate to. Drinking wasn’t always about shyness, but in my early days of house parties and “get togethers” it took a fair dose of booze just to stop me from running out the door! I believe today it treated the shy person in me, by taking the edge off my nerves. But it also suited the Introvert in me, because I could quite happily hover on the edge of the room with a few bottles in my hand. I felt comfortable watching and I didn’t feel stupid for feeling comfortable watching. “Hey, don’t worry about me – I’m having a whale of a time just drinking!”
As anyone who has had a drinking problem in their life will know though, it doesn’t stay fun. Most people drink to grease the wheels when socializing, but the people who feel they need to drink to grease the wheels are often headed for trouble.
Like the article says “shy alcoholics…do not like having to drink to perform better” and personal experience tells me it’s often a slippery slope. What starts as needing a few drinks to go to a house party can lead on to needing a bottle or so before your “date” (sometimes funny, sometimes not so funny!). Given time it’s Dutch Courage before you can go home and face your family, a livener before you can start work and somewhere down that road lies the “eye opener” first thing in the morning from the bottle under the bed.
Don’t misunderstand me…plenty of people drink, and plenty of people drink sensibly. I am not suggesting the demon lies in the bottle. Maybe the demon lies in the need. Addiction has two commonly perceived components…psychological need and physical need. A shy or introverted person who turns to alcohol can often start from a position of feeling they are missing something…the need is already there. So psychological addiction has a running head start. Drink enough, and regularly enough and physical addiction comes up behind pretty quickly, as sure as eggs is eggs.
Anyhoo…this post hasn’t been as light and fluffy as it could have been, but it’s a theme I’ll come back to. I’m also intrigued by the comments on Introverted people and Alcoholics Anonymous…or other treatment programs for problem drinkers. I have a little experience there too and my own opinions.
How about you…is booze a good or bad answer for shy people? Are shy people likely to drink more, or less than others? What are your personal experiences?