Social Phobias

Alcohol Abuse can be Exacerbated by Anxiety

One of the most common and yet least understood mental health problems worldwide is social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia). This anxiety disorder is caused by an irrational fear of interacting with other people in social situations. It is related to self-consciousness and the fear of criticism and humiliation. To others, people with social phobia may seem to be shy, introverted or unfriendly. In reality, most people with social phobia would like to interact more easily with others and fit into social situations. They are aware that their fears limit their opportunities and keep them from doing things they want to do, but they are unable to overcome them.

How Common is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Psychologists now believe that social anxiety is much more common than previously thought and that millions of people around the world suffer from this disorder. In the U.S., about 13% of the population will develop some form of social anxiety during their lifetime. Social anxiety may be limited to a specific type social interaction, such as a fear of speaking in public, meeting new people or making small talk at a party. In more serious cases it may take the form of a generalized anxiety disorder that impacts all aspects of an individual’s life.

Symptoms

Like other phobias, individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder usually understand intellectually that their fears are unfounded. However, this does not stop them from experiencing feelings of anxiety in social situations. Underlying their anxiety is a fear of judgment and deep feelings of inadequacy. The psychological effects of social anxiety disorder include low self-esteem, sensitivity to criticism, negative self-talk and lack of self assertion.

Social phobia has physical as well as psychological symptoms, including:

Racing heartbeat
Uncontrollable blushing
Rush of adrenaline
Profuse sweating
Nausea and stomach pain
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Muscle twitching and trembling
Shaky voice and other difficulties in speaking
Some of the more serious impacts of social phobia include problems with relationships, job problems, alcoholism and other types of substance abuse.

Causes

Researchers believe this disorder is caused by a mixture of genetics and environment. The disorder seems to run in families, indicating that there may be a hereditary component or that children may learn this behavior when they see it in their parents. There is also some indication that brain chemistry, such as an imbalance of serotonin, may contribute to social anxiety disorder. Women suffer from social anxiety disorder more often than men. In addition, children who experience chronic bullying, teasing or ridicule are thought to be more likely to develop this disorder.

Treatment

With commitment, social phobia can be treated and overcome. It’s important to work with a social phobia specialist who understands that the self-consciousness that is part of this disorder takes time to overcome. Successful treatment methods include cognitive-behavioral therapy and behavioral group therapy that includes other patients with social phobia. In some cases, antidepressants may be used in combination with cognitive.

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