Also called Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Social Phobia, is characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People with Social Phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.
So far, there have been no medications approved by the FDA specifically for the treatment of Social Phobia. The only medications proven to be effective have been antidepressants such as Effexor and Nardil, and Benzodiazepines such as Klonopin and Xanax.
In two different studies scientists have shown that the hormone oxytocin can inhibit the feelings of Anxiety in people with Social Phobia. These people were able to socially interact much more effectively and showed greatly reduced fears, as well. These discovery may lead to a better understanding and treatment of psychiatric conditions such as Social Phobia, in which people feel distressed when meeting and interacting with others.
Predrag Petrovic, one of the authors of a Swedish study, said that,
[O]xytocin can reduce anxiety and increase the chances of social contact for people with certain types of psychiatric disorder. There are also previous studies to show that oxytocin can inhibit [fear] activity, which tells us that we should see this as an opportunity for new forms of treatment.
What is Social Phobia?
Social Phobia: overwhelming self-consciousness and anxiety
Individuals with Social Phobia typically become intensely anxious, with increased heart rate, sweating, and other signs of nervous arousal during a social encounter. They may experience symptoms resembling a panic attack. These physical symptoms may cause additional anxiety, often leading to a habitual fear response that reinforces the anxiety of public situations.
Impaired social and occupational functioning
Social Phobia is considered a disorder if it is severe enough to adversely affect social or occupational functioning. Although it is common for many people to experience some anxiety before or during a public appearance, anxiety levels in people with Social Phobia can become so high that they begin to avoid social situations. This fear may become so severe that it interferes with work, school, and other ordinary activities, and can make it hard to make and keep friends.
While many people with Social Phobia recognize that their fear of being around people may be excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it. People with SAD often suffer “anticipatory” anxiety — the fear of a situation before it even happens — for days or weeks before the event. In addition, they often experience low self-esteem and depression.
Social Phobia can be limited to only one type of situation — such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others — or, in its most severe form, a person experiences symptoms whenever they are around other people at all.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a natural brain chemical
Oxytocin is a natural neuropeptide, a brain chemical, that is secreted by the body to induce a calming effect. It is best known for its roles in female reproduction, where it is released in large amounts in childbirth, and when the nipples are stimulated, facilitating breastfeeding.
Oxytocin also has been shown by researchers to have a role in:
- Social bonding
- Increasing trust
- Reducing fear
- Reducing anxiety
- Increasing generosity
- Maternal behaviors
- Sexual response
Most of these roles have a direct bearing on Social Phobia. For example, people with Social Phobia have a hard time making and keeping friends and trusting others to not judge them.
Oxytocin has been used for years, primarily for the inducement of labor in pregnant women.
There are few publicly-available commercial sources of oxytocin. Those few sources are all nasal sprays claiming to enhance sexual arousal and pleasure.
Why are these discoveries important?
No specific drug treatments for Social Phobia
As mentioned, there are no specific drug treatments for Social Phobia. The treatments that are available are effective for Anxiety Disorders in general, but are being used “off-label” to treat Social Phobia.
Discoveries of this sort may lead drug researchers to develop new uses for oxytocin as a specific treatment for Social Phobia. It is a natural hormone produced by the body, and therefore would not face the years of rigorous testing required for new synthetic drugs.
It is attractive to think that a natural hormone could be used to quell the fears and enhance the lives of people with Social Phobia. It is a remote possibility that the drug companies will pick up on these findings to test and produce treatments, but I think it much more likely that such activity will have to come from a private or government-funded source.
What do you think?
- Do you find a natural hormone such as oxytocin more attractive than a synthetic drug such as Xanax?
- What do you think are the chance for oxytocin being made available to people with Social Phobia?
- Do you think that these discoveries are as important as I think they are?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
NewScientist. (2007, July 19). Hormone spray could banish shyness. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from NewScientist Web site: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg19526124.700
Psych Central. (2008, May 29). About Oxytocin. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2008/about-oxytocin/
Science Daily. (2008, July 23). Hormone Oxytocin May Inhibit Social Phobia. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from Science Daily Web site: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080722090555.htm
SocialFear.com. (2008, July). Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Symptoms and Treatment 2008. Retrieved September 8, 2008 from SocialFear.com Web site: http://www.socialfear.com/