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Medication for Social Anxiety: Which Drugs Help Most?

Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


Social anxiety disorder affects millions [1*] worldwide. It is characterized by
anxiety about social settings, the intense fear of criticism, and the constant concern of saying or doing something potentially
embarrassing in front of others. Even seemingly routine interactions can cause much tension for those having this

Living with social anxiety can feel like navigating a minefield of uncomfortable
thoughts and feelings. Fortunately, treatment options, including medication and
psychotherapy, can bring relief. Read on to get a closer look at anti-anxiety
medications commonly prescribed in this case.

Social anxiety can be managed. Schedule an appointment to receive a personalized treatment plan.

How Does Medication Treat Social Anxiety Disorder?

Medications for social anxiety assist in the restoration of a healthy mood and lessen the excessive anxiety experienced in social situations. Depending on the medicine type, they act on brain chemistry and neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine or GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), balancing them or improving their activity.

Prescription Medications for Severe Social Anxiety

Medication can be essential in cases of severe or chronic social anxiety, enhancing an overall quality of life. The options mentioned in the following medication list are commonly prescribed for social anxiety. The decision regarding medication use has to be made by a qualified healthcare provider, considering one’s specific needs and treatment goals.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs [2*] are antidepressants that increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Since serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, SSRIs can improve one’s well-being and reduce anxiety, including social worries. These include sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac), and escitalopram (Lexapro). 

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs [3*] raise serotonin levels but also target norepinephrine. Norepinephrine influences the body’s “fight or flight” response, so SNRIs can aid in lowering the mental and physical signs of social anxiety. These include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs [4*] inhibit the activity of monoamine oxidase, therefore increasing serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. This results in improved mood and reduced anxiety. Nevertheless, medications of this type are prescribed less frequently due to dietary limitations and potential drug interactions. Examples of MAOIs include phenelzine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate).


Beta-blockers [5*] block the effects of adrenaline, a hormone that triggers the body’s stress response. They can help people with social anxiety feel calmer in anxiety-provoking situations by reducing physical symptoms like a racing heart or trembling. Examples of beta-blockers include propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin).


Benzodiazepines [6*] act as sedatives and muscle relaxants. They increase a neurotransmitter called GABA’s relaxing properties. Although they can quickly alleviate anxiety symptoms, they are often only given as needed and only for short-term use due to the possibility of dependence. Examples of benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).


Buspirone [7*] affect several neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. They might not be as effective right away as benzodiazepines, but the danger of dependence is lower.

A healthcare professional may recommend certain medications depending on your unique needs, the severity of symptoms, and medical history. It’s important to seek guidance from a healthcare provider to identify the appropriate medication.

Consult a healthcare professional today to discuss your personalized treatment plan for social anxiety.

Prescription Medications for Severe Social Anxiety

Treating social anxiety disorder with medications can be beneficial, but it is important to understand their potential risks and side effects. It is essential to discuss these risks with a healthcare professional in advance. The following are some aspects worth reviewing:

  • Side effects: Many meds for social anxiety, from MAOIs to SSRIs and SNRIs, can cause side effects. These include dizziness, nausea, disturbed sleep, weakness, and weight problems. Their intensity and duration depend on individual differences.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: If abruptly, several drugs, particularly SSRIs, can cause withdrawal symptoms. To reduce such effects, it’s important to gradually stop using medications with the assistance of a healthcare professional.
  • Risk of dependency: If not used as directed, benzodiazepines can become habit-forming. They are normally advised for short-term use because of the risk of abuse and dependence.
  • Interactions: Some medications used to treat social anxiety may interact with other medicines. To avoid potential interactions, inform your healthcare provider of all medications, supplements, and over-the-counter drugs you use.
  • Serotonin syndrome: In rare cases, when taken with other drugs that alter serotonin levels, SSRIs and SNRIs can cause serotonin syndrome. Agitation, a quick heartbeat, and elevated blood pressure are the main symptoms of this potentially fatal illness.
  • Allergic reactions: Allergy to medicines may result in rash, itching, or swelling. If you believe you are having an allergic reaction, get immediate medical treatment.

When selecting a suitable medication for social anxiety, a healthcare provider weighs the advantages and associated risks of every option.

Additional Treatment Alongside Medication for Social Anxiety

To manage the symptoms of social anxiety comprehensively and better understand the causes and coping strategies, medications can be supplemented with psychotherapy. These include the next types of therapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT enables people to recognize and alter unfavorable thought patterns and behaviors that fuel social anxiety. It can have enduring effects and provide useful coping mechanisms for people with mental health disorders.
  • Exposure therapy: It involves gradually facing feared social situations in a controlled and supportive environment under the supervision of a therapist. Over time, exposure therapy helps reduce the fear response associated with these situations.
  • Group therapy: To practice social skills and build confidence in social situations, joining a therapy group for social anxiety can be helpful.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help manage symptoms of anxiety disorders and promote relaxation before visiting social settings.
  • Social skills training: Learning and practicing specific social skills can improve confidence in social interactions.
  • Support network: Having a strong support system of friends and family during treatment can offer emotional support and motivation.

Finding the Right Treatment for Social Anxiety

Consulting a doctor or mental health specialist before starting any medication or treatment is the first step. Before the appointment, list questions to discuss, such as the ways to deal with specific symptoms, potential side effects of medications, their benefits and alternatives, and psychotherapy options. In addition, attend follow-up appointments to monitor treatment progress, discuss supplementing coping strategies, or adjust the treatment plan if you don’t respond to it or have any other concerns.

In Conclusion

Finding the right treatment for social anxiety disorder is a significant step toward improving well-being. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is different and the things that work best for one person may not work for another. Always consult a medical expert before starting a new medication so that they can offer personalized advice and support.

Frequently Asked Questions

When deciding whether to try medication for social anxiety, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. They can evaluate your situation and suggest treatment options, such as medication, therapy, or both.

When treating social anxiety, the decision between medication and therapy is usually based on the severity of the condition and individual aspects. In some cases, a combination of both options may be the most effective solution. It’s recommended to seek advice from a mental health professional to determine the best approach for your specific situation.

It is important to consult with a mental health professional to determine the best course of action for your specific situation. Zoloft and Lexapro are both antidepressants that can be effective in treating social anxiety disorder, but the effectiveness may differ from person to person. Your overall health should also be taken into consideration.

Treating social anxiety disorder with antidepressants can be effective. However, it is important to consider individual circumstances, the severity of symptoms, and the response to the medication before determining whether it is a good fit. Consulting with a healthcare provider to personalize treatment decisions is recommended.

Different factors may cause social anxiety disorder, such as a history of bullying and abuse, overcontrolling parents, specific personality traits, or strong experience of humiliation. To understand the individual roots of this disorder, it’s suggested to consult with a mental health professional.


7 sources
  1. Social Anxiety Disorder
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  2. Antidepressants for social anxiety disorder: A systematic review and meta‐analysis
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  3. Qualitative review of SNRIs in anxiety
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  4. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in anxiety disorders
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  5. Beta-blockers in anxiety disorders
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  6. Benzodiazepines
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  7. Buspirone
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

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This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.