Health Information

Conditions InDepth: Social Anxiety Disorder

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If you have social anxiety disorder, you are very worried about embarrassing yourself in front of other people. Your fears may be so serious that you cannot do everyday things. You may have a very hard time talking to people at work or school. Your fear may even keep you from going to work or school on some days.

You may worry that you will blush or shake in front of other people. You may believe that people are watching you, just waiting for you to make a mistake. Even talking on the phone, signing a check at the store, or using a public restroom can make you afraid. Many people are a little nervous before they meet new people or give a speech. But if you have social anxiety disorder, you worry for weeks before. You may do anything to stay away from the situation.

Social anxiety disorder can be limited to only one type of situation—such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others. In its most severe form, you may experience symptoms almost anytime you are around other people.

About 6.8% of the US population ages 18 to 54—approximately 15 million Americans—has social anxiety disorder during the course of a given year. Social anxiety disorder is equally common in men and women. The disorder typically begins in childhood or early adolescence and rarely develops after age 25.

The exact cause of social anxiety disorder is unknown. Possible causes include genetic factors, problems with regulation of chemicals in the brain, an imbalance of neurotransmitters or brain hormones, and past emotional trauma in social situations.

Social anxiety disorder often coexists with other mental disorders, such as substance abuse (alcoholism or drug abuse), depression, or other anxiety disorders.

What are the risk factors for social anxiety disorder?What are the symptoms of social anxiety disorder?How is social anxiety disorder diagnosed?How can I reduce my risk of social anxiety disorder?What are the treatments for social anxiety disorder?Are there screening tests for social anxiety disorder?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with social anxiety disorder?Where can I get more information about social anxiety disorder?

Revision Information

  • Schneier FR. Clinical practice. Social anxiety disorder. N Engl J Med. 2006;355:1029-1036.

  • Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 2008. Accessed October 30, 2008.

  • Social phobia (social anxiety disorder). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder.shtml. Updated October 2008. Accessed October 30, 2008.

  • Statistics and facts about anxiety disorders. Anxiety Disorders Association of America website. Available at: http://www.adaa.org. Accessed October 30, 2008.