Social Anxiety, Reasons for Drinking, and College Students

Melissa M. Norberg*, Alice R. Norton, Jake Olivier, Michael J. Zvolensky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

59 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research suggests that social anxiety may be associated with higher rates of alcohol problems in women, yet may be associated with lower levels of drinking in men. The current study investigated putative mechanisms that may underlie potential gender differences in the social anxiety-alcohol relationship. One hundred and eighteen college students (61.0% women) completed an interview assessing drinking behaviors and questionnaires measuring social anxiety, drinking motives, and drinking situations. Although college men and women both reported similar frequencies of drinking in positive situations and to enhance positive emotions, women reported drinking more often in negative situations and to cope with aversive emotions than men. Mediated moderation analyses suggested that women with social anxiety may be at greater risk of encountering adverse consequences because of their likelihood to drink to conform or to cope with the aversive affect they experience in negative situations. Conversely, when men experience high rates of adverse consequences, it may be due to drinking greater quantities of alcohol in positive situations. Highly socially anxious college men may drink less alcohol and experience fewer adverse consequences than their nonanxious or mildly anxious counterparts because they may find themselves in positive situations and drinking to enhance positive feelings less often, potentially due to avoidant behavior. These findings may help to explain why social anxiety serves as a potential risk factor for alcohol-related problems for college women, but a protective factor for college men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-566
Number of pages12
JournalBehavior Therapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

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