Marijuana-Related Problems and Social Anxiety: The Role of Marijuana Behaviors in Social Situations.Individuals with elevated social anxiety appear particularly vulnerable to marijuana-related problems.
Marijuana-Related Problems and Social Anxiety: The Role of Marijuana
Behaviors in Social Situations
Julia D. Buckner
Louisiana State University
Richard G. Heimberg
Russell A. Matthews and Jose Silgado
Louisiana State University
Individuals with elevated social anxiety appear particularly vulnerable to marijuana-related problems. In
fact, individuals with social anxiety may be more likely to experience marijuana-related impairment than
individuals with other types of anxiety. It is therefore important to determine whether constructs
particularly relevant to socially anxious individuals play a role in the expression of marijuana-related
problems in this vulnerable population. Given that both social avoidance and using marijuana to cope
with negative affect broadly have been found to play a role in marijuana-related problems, the current
study utilized a new measure designed to simultaneously assess social avoidance and using marijuana to
cope in situations previously identified as anxiety-provoking among those with elevated social anxiety.
The Marijuana Use to Cope with Social Anxiety Scale (MCSAS) assessed behaviors regarding 24 social
situations: marijuana use to cope in social situations (MCSAS-Cope) and avoidance of social situations
if marijuana was unavailable. In Study 1, we found preliminary support for the convergent and
discriminant validity and internal consistency of the MCSAS scales. In Study 2, we examined if MCSAS
scores were related to marijuana problems among those with (n 44) and without (n 44) clinically
elevated social anxiety. Individuals with clinically meaningful social anxiety were more likely to use
marijuana to cope in social situations and to avoid social situations if marijuana was unavailable. Of
importance, MCSAS-Cope uniquely mediated the relationship between social anxiety group status and
marijuana-related problems. Results highlight the importance of contextual factors in assessing
marijuana-related behaviors among high-risk populations.
Keywords: social anxiety, social phobia, marijuana, cannabis, coping motives, social avoidance
Individuals with elevated social anxiety appear particularly vulnerable
to marijuana-related problems (Buckner et al., 2008).
Nearly one third of people with cannabis dependence also have
social anxiety disorder (SAD), a rate higher than for any other
anxiety disorder (Agosti, Nunes, & Levin, 2002). Social anxiety is
related to faster transition from first use to experiencing marijuanarelated
problems among adolescent boys (Marmorstein, White,
Loeber, & Stouthamer.Loeber, 2010). Further, adolescents with
SAD were nearly 5 times more likely to develop cannabis dependence
in young adulthood after controlling for other Axis I disorders
(Buckner et al., 2008). No other mood or anxiety disorder
remained significantly related to subsequent cannabis dependence
after controlling for Axis I disorder comorbidity, suggesting that
clinically elevated social anxiety is an important risk factor for
Consistent with tension-reduction models (Conger, 1956), socially
anxious individuals may use marijuana to manage chronically
elevated anxiety, and using marijuana in this way may place
them at risk for developing marijuana-related problems. In partial
support of this hypothesis, elevated social anxiety was related to
using marijuana to cope with negative affect, which mediated the
relationship between social anxiety and marijuana-related problems
(Buckner, Bonn.Miller, Zvolensky, & Schmidt, 2007). Yet,
social anxiety and SAD were unrelated to the expectation that
using marijuana would result in reductions in negative affect
(Buckner & Schmidt, 2008, 2009), suggesting the link between
social anxiety and marijuana-related problems may be more complex
than simply using marijuana to decrease anxiety. Another
limitation of this hypothesis is that it does not address the question
as to why people with elevated social anxiety (as opposed to other
types of negative affect) have such high rates of marijuana-related
problems. Also, if socially anxious individuals use marijuana for
tension reduction, it follows that they would use marijuana more
frequently than nonsocially anxious individuals. Yet, findings regarding
the relationship between social anxiety and frequency of
This article was published Online First October 17, 2011.
Julia D. Buckner, Russell A. Matthews, and Jose Silgado, Department of
Psychology, Louisiana State University; Richard G. Heimberg, Department
of Psychology, Temple University.
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