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Definition:

Social phobia is a persistent and irrational fear of situations that may involve scrutiny or judgment by others, such as parties and other social events.



Alternative Names:

Phobia - social



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

People with social phobias fear and avoid situations in which they may be subject to the scrutiny of others. It may begin in adolescence and may be associated with overprotective parents or limited social opportunities. Males and females are affected equally with this disorder.

People with social phobia are at high risk for alcohol or other drug dependence, because they may come to rely on drinks or drugs to relax in social situations.



Symptoms:

Social phobia is different from shyness. Shy people are able to participate in social functions. People with social phobia are constrained by their condition to the point that it affects their ability to function in work and relationships.

Some of the most common fears of people with social phobia include:

  • Attending parties and other social occasions
  • Eating, drinking, and writing in public
  • Meeting new people
  • Speaking in public
  • Using public restrooms


Signs and tests:

The health care provider will look at your history of phobia, and will get a description of the behavior from you, your family, and friends.

Signs include:



Treatment:

The goal of treatment is to help you function effectively. The success of the treatment usually depends on the severity of the phobia.

Systematic desensitization is a technique used to treat phobias. You are asked to relax, then imagine the components of the phobia, working from the least fearful to the most fearful. Gradual exposure to real-life situations has also been used with success to help people overcome their fears.

Social skills training may involve social contact in a group therapy situation to practice social skills. Role playing and modeling are techniques used to help you become more comfortable relating to others in a social situation.

Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications are sometimes used to help relieve the symptoms associated with phobias.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

The outcome is generally good with treatment, and antidepressant medications have been shown to be very effective.



Complications:
  • Alcohol use to combat anxiety
  • Alcohol or other drug dependence
  • Loneliness and social isolation


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider or mental health professional if fear is affecting your work and relationships with others.



Prevention:

Taking measures to improve your self-esteem and getting training in social skills may be helpful.



References:

Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Social phobia. In: Moore DP, Jefferson JW, eds. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2004: chap 86.

Katon W, Geyman JP. Anxiety disorders. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 57.




Review Date: 12/15/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Timothy A. Rogge, MD, private practice in Psychiatry, Kirkland, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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