The role of underutilization of protective behavioral strategies in the relation of social anxiety with risky drinking

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Social anxiety is prominent among undergraduates and increases the risk of experiencing alcohol problems. In fact, social anxiety more than quadruples the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, yet it is inconsistently related to heavier drinking. Inconsistent findings may be due to lack of attention on protective behavioral strategies (PBS) among socially anxious drinkers. PBS are cognitive-behavioral strategies to reduce drinking and alcohol-related harm. Due to the nature of social anxiety, affected individuals may be especially vulnerable to PBS underutilization, leading to heavier and more problematic drinking. The current study examined the mediating role of PBS in the relationships of social anxiety with past-month drinking and alcohol problems using cross-sectional data among current (past-month) heavy undergraduate drinkers (N = 431). Social anxiety was significantly positively related to past-month alcohol problems and peak drinking. Social anxiety was significantly negatively related to typical drinking, drinking frequency, and PBSS Manner of Drinking. Social anxiety was indirectly (via PBSS Manner of Drinking) related to greater past-month peak drinks and more drinking problems. Findings suggest that socially anxious persons may be vulnerable to heavier and more problematic drinking due to PBS underutilization. Treatment implications are discussed.

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Addictive behaviors

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