Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common, chronic psychiatric disorder characterized by a persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment can occur. This disorder typically appears during the mid-adolescent years and is unremitting throughout life if not properly treated. SAD presents as two subtypes: the more common and debilitating generalized form, and the nongeneralized form, which consists predominantly of performance anxiety. The majority of patients with SAD have comorbid mental disorders, including mood, anxiety, and substance abuse. No single development theory has been proposed to account for the origins of SAD, although current understanding of the etiology of SAD posits an interaction between psychological and biological factors. Risk factors include environmental and parenting influences and dysfunctional cognitive and conditioning events in early childhood. The neurobiology of SAD appears to involve neurochemical dysfunction, as evidenced by studies of neuroreceptor imaging, neuroendocrine function, and profiles of response to specific medications. Clinical trials have demonstrated that benzodiazepines and antidepressants are effective in the treatment of SAD. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are emerging as the first-line treatment for SAD, based on their proven safety, tolerability, and efficacy. Goals for ongoing future research include development of approaches to achieve remission, to convert nonresponders and partial responders to full responders, and to prevent relapse and maintain long-term efficacy.
This monograph explores the epidemiology, clinical presentation, and differential diagnosis of SAD, with a focus on neural circuitry of social relationships and neurochemical dysfunction. The prevalence, rates of recognition and treatment, patterns of comorbidity, quality-of-life issues, and natural history of SAD are discussed as well as pharmacologic and psychosocial treatment strategies for SAD.