Cause of Social Anxiety Disorder Found in the Brain

– Posted in: Anxiety, SAD – Social Phobia

A study published in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine proves that there is a biological cause in the brain for Social Anxiety Disorder. The lead author, Dr. van der Wee, M.D., Ph.D. said,


Our study provides direct evidence for the involvement of the brain’s dopaminergic system in social anxiety disorder in patients who had no prior exposure to medication… It demonstrates that social anxiety has a physical, brain dependent component.


The research involved tracing how serotonin and dopamine act upon the receptors in the brains of people with Social Anxiety Disorder. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters, or substances responsible for transferring signals from on neuron to another. If the neurotransmitters are out of balance, messages cannot get through the brain properly. This can alter the way the brain reacts to normal social situations, leading to Anxiety. 


Other neuroimaging studies have shown abnormalities in glucose and oxygen consumption in the brain. Earlier researchers have suggested that Social Anxiety Disorder is a result of the interplay between a genetic or acquired biological vulnerability and environment. More recent studies has indicated that Social Anxiety Disorder might be related to an imbalance of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This study is the first time the brain’s dopaminergic system was examined directly in relation to Social Anxiety Disorder.


It is too early for results of this study and similar ones to have an impact on treatment. Dr. van der Wee states:


Although there are no direct implications for treatment as a result of this study yet, it is another piece of evidence showing biological abnormalities, which may lead to new therapeutic approaches and insight into the origins of the disorder.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Social Anxiety Disorder affects approximately 15 million American adults and is the third most common mental disorder in the United States, after depression and alcohol dependence. 


The essential feature of the Social Anxiety Disorder is the fear of being evaluated by others, with the expectation that such an assessment will be negative and embarrassing. It tends to run a chronic and unremitting course and often leads to the development of alcoholism and depression. The disorder most often surfaces in adolescence or early adulthood, but it can occur at any time.


Dr. van der Wee works at the department of psychiatry and the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition at the Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands.



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Further Reading:

The news release from the Society for Nuclear Medicine (SNM

Report of the study from Science Daily 

Another report of the study from Psych Central 

Social Anxiety Disorder from the Information section of Anxiety, Panic & Health


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5 comments… add one
Kathi July 8, 2008, 11:00 am

Wow, am I glad to find your website! Looks like you got the blog template problem solved, and that you’re tackling this big issue headon. My approach (and new meds) are more oblique. I’ll check in often, quietly… ~K

Mike July 8, 2008, 11:47 am

The template problem was caused by a temporary glitch with my server. Murphy’s Law once again!

Thank you for your comment. And I hope that you don’t feel the need to be *too* quiet! I hope to establish a community here that can be of help to one another.

David Armstrong September 16, 2011, 8:01 am

I am a man. I have had panic/anxiety and social problems since I was 9 years old. I am now 61. I was in the Marine Corps during Vietnam for 4 years and had panic disorder my whole “hitch.” I didn’t get any help until I was discharged and I was 28 years old before I ever heard or panic disorder. The U.S. Government said I was mentally and emotionally sound. I wasn’t. I did exactly what I was told, got by, with the help of the Lord. Panic disorder can be a lifetime illness. I am living proof and had I not gotten help I’d most likely be dead by now. If I was not on medication I would be an alcoholic. Doctors love to shove any drug they can at you with this disorder. If you play their game long enough you might get lucky and find something that helps… I take a benzodiazepine. But, believe me, there is no cure for this monkey. I have not worked for over 15 years, it does not diminish, nor does it go away. Someday maybe they will figure it out. Back in the old West I would have been a hermit, snuck into town once every couple of months and gotten by. It’s been around a long time. Thanks for reading my story. It would take me a long time to explain my “coping mechanisms” and how I made it these many years. It “ain’t” just women; I am so sick of hearing that. Guys just get drunk to kill the “beast.”

I.W September 19, 2012, 12:24 am

I really hope that we find a cure to end our suffering. I had my first panic attack when I was 5 (a neighbour saw me naked) and I’m now 32 and cannot work or leave the house. I’m tortured by this. I studied psych for 6 yrs in order to understand myself and help others but I can’t use it. I was addicted to xanax for 3 years out of necessity, and my amnesia was so bad that I couldn’t function (so replaced panic with amnesia). My Grandmother suffered from the same illness and I have no doubt that it’s inherited Interestingly I’m more like her than anyone else in my family in all ways; we’re both artists and we share allergies.
-lets hope for a truly good medication soon

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