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Social Anxiety Disorder FAQ

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorder is a common anxiety disorder characterized by fear and avoidance of various social situations. In many respects, Social Anxiety Disorder resembles an extreme form of shyness. Unlike shyness, however, Social Anxiety Disorder interferes significantly with an individual's functioning. People with Social Anxiety Disorder often become anxious in and avoid social situations such as speaking in public, meeting new people, or dating. Not all people with Social Anxiety Disorder fear or avoid all social situations; the specific situations vary from person to person.

What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?

No one knows for certain what causes Social Anxiety Disorder. The scientific research suggests that both biological and environmental factors are probably involved. People with Social Anxiety Disorder have also been shown to have certain biases in their thinking. For example, they often exaggerate the risks and dangers of certain social situations. The good news is that regardless of the cause, Social Anxiety Disorder is treatable.

How common is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Although it often goes unrecognized, Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common types of psychological problems. Recent studies indicate that up to 13% of Americans will experience clinically significant Social Anxiety Disorder at some time during their lives.

When does it begin?

Many people with Social Anxiety Disorder report having been shy for as long as they can remember, but the disorder does not usually reach clinical proportions until the teenage years. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked by educators and mental health professionals and typically goes untreated. Without treatment, people with Social Anxiety Disorder are at high risk of developing a lifelong pattern of social impairment. They are also at increased risk for depression and alcohol or drug abuse.

How is it treated?

There are two forms of treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder. One form of treatment that has been shown by scientific studies to work is medication. The other is psychotherapy. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these treatment modalities. Medications require relatively little effort on the part of the patient. There is the possibility of side effects, but these are usually easy to minimize. The big disadvantage of using medications as the primary treatment for anxiety disorders--including Social Anxiety Disorder--is that in most cases the benefits are not permanent. In other words, when one eventually stops the medication the problems often come back. The greatest advantage of psychotherapy is that the changes achieved through treatment are more likely to be permanent. However, psychotherapy requires work on the part of the patient. In addition to weekly therapy sessions, there are homework assignments that must be completed between sessions.

How can I find out more about Drexel's Anxiety Treatment and Research Program?

The Drexel University Social Anxiety Program provides treatment free of charge to eligible participants through the University's Department of Psychology. Since people with Social Anxiety Disorder also frequently experience depression, the program addresses depression as well when appropriate. To learn more about the program, please call (215) 762-3327 (FEAR) and leave your name and telephone number. A therapist will return your call promptly.