What Are the Treatments for Social Anxiety Disorder?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on January 12, 2023
2 min read

It may not be easy at first to seek help for a condition like social anxiety disorder, which can make you reluctant to speak to strangers. But if you're at the point where you avoid social contact and it's started to control your life, you should talk to a mental health professional. There are a lot of treatments that can help.

Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, causes overwhelming fear of social situations, from parties and dating, to public speaking and eating in restaurants. When you cut yourself off because of social anxiety, you might feel depressed and have low self-esteem. You might have negative or even suicidal thoughts.

If you've been avoiding certain social situations for at least a few months and have been under severe stress because of it, it's time to get treatment.

The best way to treat social anxiety is through cognitive behavioral therapy or medication -- and often both.

You generally need about 12 to 16 therapy sessions. The goal is to build confidence, learn skills that help you manage the situations that scare you most, and then get out into the world.

Teamwork is key in social anxiety therapy. You and your therapist will work together to identify your negative thoughts and start to change them. You'll need to focus on the present instead of what happened in the past.

You might do role-playing and social skills training as part of your therapy. Maybe you'll get lessons in public speaking or learn how to navigate a party of strangers. Between sessions, you'll practice on your own.

A big part of getting better is taking care of yourself. If you exercise, get enough sleep, and limit alcohol and caffeine, you'll be more focused for the mental challenges of therapy.

Your doctor may suggest antidepressants to treat your social anxiety disorder. For instance, they may prescribe drugs known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as:

Your doctor may also suggest antidepressants called SNRIs (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Some examples are:

Buspirone (BuSpar) is an older medication that’s in its own class that is sometimes used to treat chronic anxiety. It’s considered non-habit forming but you’ll need to take it for a few weeks before seeing full relief of symptoms. 

You might find that the first course of treatment eases all of your anxiety. Or it might be a longer journey. But taking those first steps will lead you to a less stressful life.