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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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