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Comorbidity, Neurobiology, and Pharmacotherapy of Social Anxiety Disorder

J Clin Psychiatry 2001;62(suppl 12):24-29

Social anxiety disorder is a common psychiatric illness that imposes persistent functional impairment and disability on persons who have the disorder. The disorder is characterized by a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. It is the most prevalent of any anxiety disorder and is the third most common psychiatric disorder after depression and alcohol abuse. Social anxiety disorder typically begins during childhood with a mean age at onset between 14 and 16 years and is sometimes preceded by a history of social inhibition or shyness. Persons who have social anxiety disorder either endure or avoid social situations altogether because the fear of embarrassment causes such intense anxiety; such avoidance may ultimately interfere with occupational and/or social functioning and lead to significant disability. The duration of social anxiety disorder is frequently lifelong, and there is a high degree of comorbidity with other psychiatric disorders. Social anxiety disorder is a serious illness that frequently runs a chronic course and is associated with significant morbidity. Patients should be treated aggressively using pharmacotherapeutic agents that can be tolerated over the long term. Cognitive-behavioral therapy should also be considered in treatment planning. Efforts to increase the recognition of social anxiety disorder as a common, distressing, and disabling condition are critical. This article discusses the comorbidity, neurobiology, and pharmacotherapy of social anxiety disorder.