Newswise — Although the use of alcohol and marijuana is common in college students, those who suffer from anxiety symptoms in social settings are particularly vulnerable to problematic use of these substances. Studies have shown that substance use by these students serves to help them cope with social anxiety.
To better understand the use of these substances for coping with social anxiety, researchers studied whether students with more severe symptoms who use both substances do so for similar reasons. They applied a comprehensive motivational model of alcohol/marijuana use in a sample of 2,034 college students from 10 universities across the United States who reported using both alcohol and marijuana in the preceding month. The students completed an online survey assessing their mental health symptoms, motives for using the substances, and their substance use behaviors.
The researchers found that nearly 30% of the sample endorsed clinically significant levels of social anxiety and nearly one-quarter exceeded the cutoff for hazardous drinking and hazardous marijuana use. Further, the effort to cope with social anxiety symptoms motivated students to use both substances. Unique to alcohol consumption, students with social anxiety symptoms who drank to conform with peers resulted in their experiencing more alcohol-related problems. The researchers concluded that, taken together, students with more social anxiety may use either alcohol or marijuana to cope with their symptoms. However, students who drink to fit in with peers may experience more alcohol-related problems.