Social Phobia and Social Anxiety Disorder Differences

Social Anxiety Disorder is Replacing Social Phobia

nervous woman at party
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The difference between social phobia and social anxiety disorder (SAD) is largely chronological, in that social phobia is the former term and SAD is the current term for the disorder. The official psychiatric diagnosis of social phobia was introduced in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III). Social phobia was described as a fear of performance situations and did not include fears of less formal situations such as casual conversations.

When Did Social Phobia Become Social Anxiety Disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is a tool healthcare providers use to determine the criteria for different mental illnesses, helping them to make accurate diagnoses.The DSM-IV named the mental illness social phobia. When the new DSM-5 was published in 2013, this term was replaced by social anxiety disorder. The new term was introduced to describe how broad and generalized fears are a part of the disorder.The criteria was changed to reflect the latest research. 

In past editions of the DSM, social phobia was diagnosed if an individual felt extreme discomfort or fear when performing in front of others. In the DSM-5, social anxiety can be recognized because of an individual's response to many different social situations. For example, a fear of conversation with strangers at a dinner party wouldn't have been considered social phobia; but under the new standards, this fear would fit the criteria of social anxiety.


What is the Diagnostic Criteria For Social Anxiety Disorder?

While you may feel very alone if you have social anxiety, more than 15 million Americans are affected. Women and men are equally likely to have the disorder. 

Social anxiety is beyond nervousness or feeling socially awkward. True social anxiety can be debilitating, harming relationships with loved ones and hurting your professional career.

To be diagnosed, your response must be completely disproportionate to the situation, such as panicking or getting sick before giving a presentation at work. Your symptoms have to be present for at least six months to be considered social anxiety. 

Your symptoms must also interfere with your life, such as your work or other everyday activities. If your anxiety is so bad that you miss work and need to stay in bed, that is an example of when social anxiety needs treatment.

How is Social Anxiety Treated?

Social psychology is treated through therapy, medication or a combination of both. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is often used to teach you a new way of thinking and processing information. Medication can minimize anxiety feelings, allowing you to take a step back and decide if your thoughts are rational or not. Both therapy and medications are used to teach you strategies for handling social anxiety and will help you handle social situations more easily. 

While social anxiety can be distressing and limit your activities, seeking treatment can make huge differences for you.

If you have had symptoms of social phobia or social anxiety, consult with your physician to begin a treatment plan and find a good therapist. Through therapy sessions and continual work, you can make a marked difference in your anxiety. 


"Social Anxiety". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5, 2013. 


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