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Who is most diagnosed with social anxiety disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. It is characterized by an intense fear of social situations and interactions with others. People with social anxiety disorder often have irrational fears of being watched or judged by others. They may worry excessively that they will say or do something embarrassing that will be humiliating. This excessive fear can lead them to avoid social situations and isolate themselves. Understanding who is most commonly diagnosed with this disorder can help inform treatment and prevention efforts.


It is estimated that around 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder, making it the third most common psychological disorder after depression and alcoholism. The average age of onset is 13 years old. However, social anxiety disorder often goes undiagnosed and untreated well into adulthood.

Some key facts about the prevalence of social anxiety disorder include:

– Women are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder twice as often as men. Around 5-15% of the general population is affected, but 10-15% of women have the disorder compared to only 5-10% of men.

– Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders among adolescents. About 8-13% of teenagers have social anxiety disorder, making it highly prevalent in this age group.

– Social anxiety disorder is underdiagnosed among the elderly. Many older adults dismiss their symptoms as normal signs of aging rather than recognizing it as social anxiety disorder.

Age of Onset

Social anxiety disorder often develops in childhood or adolescence. The average age of onset is around 13 years old.

– Childhood onset: About 50-80% of individuals with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms in childhood. It often emerges around age 8-10 years old. Shyness and behavioral inhibition in childhood are linked to an increased risk of developing social anxiety disorder.

– Adolescent onset: Many people first experience symptoms of social anxiety disorder during the hormonal and social changes of adolescence. Trying to fit in socially at school or with peers can bring on intense fears of humiliation in teens predisposed to anxiety.

– Adult onset: Although less common, social anxiety disorder can first appear in adulthood. Triggers may include major life stressors, trauma, or changes in social circumstances like a divorce, new career, or moving. The onset of symptoms tends to be gradual.

While social anxiety disorder can develop at any age, the majority of cases emerge in childhood or the teenage years. However, it often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed well into adulthood. Raising awareness across age groups is important for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Certain demographic factors are associated with an increased risk of having social anxiety disorder. These include:


As mentioned previously, women are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder at twice the rate of men. The reasons for this gender difference are not entirely clear but likely involve a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Estrogen and progesterone may interact with neurotransmitters like serotonin that regulate mood and anxiety. Girls also tend to be socialized to avoid confrontation and be polite, which can enable anxious thought patterns. Sexual harassment and other traumas disproportionately affect women as well.

Race and Ethnicity

While social anxiety disorder affects all races and ethnic groups, some research suggests certain populations may have heightened risk:

– Native Americans: Some studies indicate Native American adolescents have higher rates of social anxiety disorder compared to other ethnic groups. Experts hypothesize this may stem from cultural norms that discourage individuation and assertiveness.

– Asian Americans: Social anxiety disorder appears to be more prevalent among Americans of Asian descent compared to the general public. Cultural standards around social conformity and emotional restraint could play a role.

– Latinx Americans: There are mixed findings on the prevalence of social anxiety disorder among Latinx populations. While some research points to elevated rates, other studies show little to no difference compared to other ethnicities. More research is needed.

– African Americans: Most studies have found social anxiety disorder affects African Americans at roughly the same rate as the wider population.

So while social anxiety disorder does not disproportionately affect any one race or ethnicity, cultural factors may impact risk for certain groups like Native Americans and Asian Americans.


Geographically, research indicates social anxiety disorder is:

– More common in highly populated urban areas than rural areas. The crowded spaces and increased social interaction in cities could worsen anxiety.

– Equally prevalent across different regions of the United States. Social anxiety disorder appears to affect people at similar rates regardless of where they live.

So population density seems to play a bigger role than geographic region when it comes to social anxiety disorder rates. Those living in crowded urban environments tend to be at greater risk than rural residents.

Socioeconomic Status

Little evidence exists showing those of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have social anxiety disorder. The disorder appears to affect people of high, middle and low socioeconomic status at relatively equal rates. If anything, there’s a small association between higher income and social anxiety risk. However, lower SES individuals often lack access to mental health screening and care.

Marital Status

Individuals who are single, divorced or widowed tend to have higher rates of social anxiety disorder compared to those who are married, in domestic partnerships, or in relationships. The social isolation and loneliness associated with being single may exacerbate symptoms for some people. Difficulty dating and developing relationships can also stem from social anxiety.

In summary, while social anxiety disorder affects people across demographics, women, teens, urban residents, certain ethnicities, and single individuals appear to be most at risk.

Common Co-Occurring Conditions

Social anxiety disorder rarely occurs alone. Many individuals with social anxiety also meet diagnostic criteria for one or more co-occurring mental health conditions. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

Other Anxiety Disorders

Having one type of anxiety disorder makes a person more prone to developing other anxiety conditions. Up to 60% of people with social anxiety disorder also have another anxiety disorder such as:

– Generalized anxiety disorder
– Panic disorder
– Agoraphobia
– Separation anxiety
– Specific phobias

This overlap is due to shared genetic and environmental risk factors underlying anxiety disorders.

Major Depressive Disorder

Around 50-70% of individuals with social anxiety disorder also have major depressive disorder. Social isolation, loneliness, and low self-esteem tied to social anxiety can lead to depression. Additionally, serotonin imbalance affects both mood and anxiety.

Substance Use Disorders

People with social anxiety are twice as likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse compared to the general population. Around 16-36% of individuals with social anxiety have an alcohol use disorder. Drinking may be an attempt to ease anxiety, but ultimately worsens the problem. Marijuana use disorders are also common.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

This disorder involves an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. About 12% of people with social anxiety disorder also have body dysmorphic disorder. Excessive concern about physical appearance aligns with fears of embarrassment or ridicule.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

There is considerable overlap between avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety disorder due to their shared symptoms of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation. Avoidant personality disorder cannot co-occur with social anxiety disorder. But some individuals initially diagnosed with social anxiety may meet criteria for APD once the social anxiety is treated.

In summary, the most prevalent co-occurring conditions with social anxiety disorder include other anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse issues, body dysmorphic disorder, and avoidant personality disorder. Screening for these is important when diagnosing and treating social anxiety.

Risk Factors

Social anxiety disorder is a complex condition with multiple contributing risk factors. These include:


Twin studies reveal a strong genetic component to social anxiety disorder. If one identical twin has the disorder, there’s a 76% chance the other twin will too. For fraternal twins, the concordance rate is only 34%. Specific genes that regulate fear response, emotion, and serotonin pathways may be involved.

Brain Structure

Neuroimaging research indicates people with social anxiety disorder have structural and functional differences in areas of the brain related to emotional processing and regulation compared to those without an anxiety disorder. This includes increased activation in the amygdala.


People with social anxiety are thought to have lower levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that dampens fear response. They may also have a heightened sensitivity to dopamine in the brain’s reward center.

Childhood Trauma

Traumatic experiences in childhood such as abuse, emotional neglect, excessive criticism, or bullying are associated with increased odds of developing social anxiety disorder later in life.

Parenting Factors

Parental overprotection, rejection, or modeling of anxious behaviors can elevate a child’s risk for social anxiety disorder. However, this relationship is complex, as children may also inherit anxiety through genetic links.

Other Childhood Factors

Inhibited temperament, poor social skills, speech issues, poor peer relationships, and stressful life events in childhood are also linked to heightened risk for social anxiety.

So both biological and environmental factors contribute to the development of social anxiety disorder in vulnerable individuals. A combination of genetic predisposition and adverse experiences, particularly in early life, appear to be the primary risk factors.

Common Treatments

If left untreated, social anxiety disorder tends to be chronic and cause significant life impairment. The good news is that several effective treatment options exist, including:

Treatment Type Description
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) CBT helps identify and change distorted thought patterns that trigger anxiety. Exposure therapy is also used.
Anti-anxiety medications SSRIs and SNRIs can help manage social anxiety symptoms.
Beta blockers These are used situationally to control physical anxiety symptoms like racing heart. Not a long-term treatment.
Group therapy This helps clients practice social skills in a therapeutic environment.
Relaxation techniques Breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can induce relaxation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the gold standard treatment and typically used in conjunction with medications. But a multifaceted approach involving relaxation techniques, social skills training, and lifestyle changes related to diet, exercise, and sleep routines can also help manage social anxiety disorder.

Prognosis and Outcomes

With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, most people with social anxiety disorder can manage their symptoms and maintain an improved quality of life. However, outcomes depend on multiple factors:

– How early treatment begins – Addressing social anxiety in childhood or the teen years leads to better outcomes than waiting until adulthood. Early intervention prevents the disorder from significantly interfering with normal development.

– Treatment compliance – Individuals who adhere to their treatment plan tend to see more significant improvement. Compliance is higher among those who perceive treatment as effective.

– Access to care – Rates of recovery are lower among populations facing barriers to mental health services due to poor insurance coverage, prohibitive costs, stigmatization, or distrust of the healthcare system.

– Social support – Strong social support systems boost treatment effectiveness and long-term outcomes. Isolation hinders progress.

– Co-occurring conditions – The presence of disorders like clinical depression or substance abuse problems along with social anxiety leads to poorer treatment response.

While social anxiety disorder is highly treatable, there are obstacles that can hinder the process. Access to supportive services and social resources, early intervention, treatment compliance, and managing co-occurring conditions are key to positive outcomes.


In summary, social anxiety disorder is a common mental health condition affecting around 15 million American adults. Women are diagnosed twice as often as men. Onset is typically in childhood or adolescence. While social anxiety occurs across demographics, certain groups like teens, urban residents, Native Americans, and Asian Americans seem particularly at risk. Co-occurring conditions are common, especially depression and substance abuse issues. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to development. Today various psychosocial and pharmacological treatments exist that can help individuals manage symptoms and improve their quality of life, especially when accessed early on. But barriers like poor access to care and lack of social support can hinder outcomes without proper intervention. Increased understanding of who tends to be most vulnerable to social anxiety disorder can help direct outreach, prevention, and treatment efforts.