Many youth who get into legal troubles have histories of having social anxieties, and seem to derive benefit from becoming engaged in simple, service-oriented social activities, according to a study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
A team of Ohio-based researchers looked at 195 adolescents aged 14 to 18 who’d been court-referred to residential treatment. “Forty-two percent of youths reported a persistent fear of being humiliated or scrutinized in social situations, and 15% met current diagnostic criteria for SAD [Social Anxiety Disorder],” they wrote. These anxieties seemed to be linked to early substance use, traumatic experiences, and incarceration histories.
The researchers found that the youth identified as having SAD voluntarily became more engaged in and benefited from the service aspects of participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, such as helping put away chairs or making coffee. These simple activities, they wrote, were associated with “reduced risk of relapse and incarceration in the 6 months posttreatment.”
“It is less about needing peer assistance or expecting praise or recognition from giving service,” said one of the authors in a press release. “It is more about adopting the attitude of ‘how can I be helpful?'”
“There are many real-world applications for the findings from this study,” she added. “Adolescents could benefit from knowing that most people feel like they do not fit in and that it is a lifelong journey to become comfortable in your own skin. Parents, teachers, and other positive adults in the lives of adolescents can provide education about this and the role and long-term costs that alcohol and other drugs might have in the pursuit of short-term relief. While learning to tolerate feeling different and letting other people have their opinions about you takes practice, it gets easier.”
Pagano, Maria E., Alexandra R. Wang, Brieana M. Rowles, Matthew T. Lee, and Byron R. Johnson. “Social Anxiety and Peer Helping in Adolescent Addiction Treatment.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 39, no. 5 (May 1, 2015): 887–95. doi:10.1111/acer.12691. (Abstract)
Socially anxious youth in treatment can enhance recovery through simple service tasks (Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research press release on EurekAlert, April 14, 2015)
People want to feel needed and people take comfort and pride from helping others (at least most of them). Engaging in activities that bring out a sense of community and contribute to the well-being of others are among the most rewarding and “anti-depressive” things one can do.