Social anxiety disorder: Excessive fear of embarrassment in social situations that is extremely intrusive and can have debilitating effects on personal and professional relationships. Also called social phobia.
Phobias are persistent, irrational fears of certain objects or situations. They recognize that their fear may be excessive or unreasonable, but are unable to overcome it.
Social phobia can be extremely disabling to a person's work, social and family relationships. People with this disorder tend to lead difficult and diminished lives. The emotional toll of the disease is great. Many people with social phobia have trouble reaching their educational and professional goals or even maintaining employment. They may depend on others financially and try to relieve anxiety with alcohol and drugs. In extreme cases, a person may begin to avoid all social situations and become housebound.
Effective treatments for social phobias include medications, a specific form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy, or a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Medications for social phobias include antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), as well as drugs known as high-potency benzodiazepines. People with a specific form of social phobia, called performance phobia, can be helped with drugs called beta-blockers. Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger anxiety symptoms. For example, a type of cognitive-behavioral treatment known as "exposure therapy" involves helping patients become more comfortable with situations that frighten them by gradually increasing exposure to the situation.