Social anxiety disorder (SAD), or social phobia, is one specific type of anxiety disorder characterized by intense fear in social situations. SAD goes beyond normal “shyness” and often leads to excessive social avoidance, which can cause significant issues in social or occupational environments.
People with social anxiety disorder are typically afraid that they will make a mistake and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. A lack of social skills or experience in social situations can make this fear worse. Sometimes, the anxiety can escalate into a panic attack. To help with these problems, some people turn to social anxiety medication.
Before undertaking a treatment plan that includes social anxiety medication, however, it would be useful to consider the positives and negatives of this route.
The pros of social anxiety medication
The are a number of positive aspects of taking social anxiety medication, including the following:
- Convenient: Once a social anxiety medication has been prescribed, it is relatively easy to follow through on the treatment plan. One only needs to remember to take a pill, and there is very little time or effort involved.
- Often effective: Once a satisfactory dose has been achieved, social anxiety medication can make a big difference in terms of “taking the edge off” your anxiety or panic attacks. One common group of social anxiety medication prescribed is the benzodiazepines, which smooth out muscle tension and shakiness caused by anxiety.
- Variety of choices: Several different classes of drugs exist, with slight differences in both mechanism of action and resulting effectiveness. Because of this, it is possible that if a particular line of social anxiety medication treatment is not effective, a different one may produce better results. For example, a beta-blocker medication, such as propranolol, can also help relieve the physical and emotional symptoms of SAD, especially performance anxiety. Beta blockers are commonly used to lower blood pressure, so it is important that you have a doctor monitor your treatment while taking this drug.
- Availability: Because many anxiety medications are also used to treat depression, most pharmacies in the U.S. keep a supply on hand.
The cons of social anxiety medication
As with any drug treatment, taking social anxiety medication can also have a number of down sides. These include the following:
- Tolerance to some medications can build up over time: If benzodiazepines are being used as social anxiety medication, they are usually only meant to be a temporary solution, and taking them on a regular basis may build up one’s tolerance. This may lead to the need for doctors to prescribe higher dosages to get the same original beneficial effect. The good news is that there are other medications which do not cause tolerance to develop, that can also be used to treat social anxiety disorder, such as serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).
- Associated with a variety of side effects and potential complications: Stomach issues, weight fluctuations, sexual side effects and shakes or tremors can sometimes be associated with social anxiety medications.
- May have adverse effects if mixed with other drugs: You should avoid consuming alcohol or street drugs while taking social anxiety medication. Social anxiety medication can sometimes interact with other prescription drugs, so it is important to tell your doctors all of the medications you are taking at each visit.
- A possible, blunted, state: Described at times as a passionless mood, patients say that in addition to limiting their ability to feel anxiety, sometimes social anxiety medication also limits their ability to experience the natural joys of life. In effect, they feel numb to all strong emotions.
It is important to note that there are very common treatment options for SAD that do not involve any form of medication for social anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), particularly group CBT for social anxiety, can be extremely effective
SAD significantly increases the risk of developing a mood disorder, such as clinical depression, and having both SAD and depression simultaneously can make it much harder, though certainly not impossible, to effectively treat either illness.
If depression persists despite psychotherapy like CBT and social anxiety medication, consider TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, a new non-drug FDA approved treatment for depression that is effective, non-invasive, and safe.
If you found this post on social anxiety medication interesting and want to learn more about other behavioral health issues, please check out our next post on mood disorder.